Posts Tagged STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday — Planets and Stars — Interview with Author Rosemary Mosco

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

Today we’re interviewing Rosemary Mosco, author of Science Comics: Solar System: Our Place In Space. This hilarious STEM-filled graphic novel starts in the imagination of its two character, Sara and Jill who design the spaceship “Unbored.” It is crewed by their intrepid pets, Riley, Fortinbras, Pepper and Mr. Slithers. The science is both approachable and decodable for even the most reluctant reader. It’s a must-have for classrooms looking to expand their libraries.

“…Like having a Time Life Science Library in comic books. Which is awesome!” —Popular Science

 

Christine Taylor-Butler: Rosemary, you grew up in Ottawa, Canada surrounded by nature. I love that you say you can walk into the woods and find 20-30 hilarious things to use as comic prompts. But how does that work if the subjects are far away in the solar system?
 
Rosemary Mosco: That’s a good question. I’m trained as a naturalist and science writer, but not as an astronomer. At first, I was nervous about tackling this subject matter. But then I realized that my background made me a good choice for this book – I’m already so enthusiastic about science, and I’m trained to explain complicated concepts in simple terms. So, every fact and discovery I shared was something I took pains to fully understand, and something that I’d found honestly exciting as a layperson! The key is enthusiasm, I think, and the rest just follows.

CTB: The graphic novel is filled with fun but factual information about each planet as well as the sun. It might surprise readers to know there is as much science in this book as more traditional nonfiction for kids. How long did it take to do the research? Any fun fact left on the cutting room floor?
 
Rosemary: I can’t remember how long the research took me, but it was many months! I think I would have loved to dive deeper into the possibilities for life on other worlds. My background is in biology, so that’s what gets me really excited – where we might find life, and what it would look like! The recent discovery of possible life in the Venusian clouds just fired off my imagination in all sorts of ways.

illustrator: Jon Chad

CTB: You are known for your humorous field guides but for this book you collaborated with illustrator, Jon Chad. Was it hard to come to a meeting of the minds on the finished product?
 
Rosemary: Jon Chad is both a consummate professional and just an overall funny, nice person. We were friends right away. His attention to detail is incredible! I really felt like we built this book together, passing ideas back and forth. I think that’s the best way to make a comic book.
 
CTB: The two girls are named for two real life women scientists, Sara Seager an astrophysicist and Dr. Jill Tarter an astronomer. What lead you to those women as inspiration?
 

Dr. Sara Seager

Dr. Jill Tarter

Rosemary: There are so many amazing women scientists in the world, but most people can only name one or two scientists, and they tend to be men. I wanted to highlight these two remarkable people. Sara Seager spends her time discovering planets outside of the solar system. That’s her JOB. How amazing is that? Jill Tarter has spent her life tirelessly questing for intelligent life from other planets. Why don’t we give TV shows to these women?
 

CTB: One of the characters is a person of color. Was it a conscious decision to make the book more inclusive?
 
Rosemary: That’s a good question. Unless I’m specifically trying to convey a particular message, I leave elements like character design up to my artists. I like to give them as much freedom and creative space as possible, and I scan their art to try and figure out what they want to draw, so I can make the script just as much theirs as mine. Jon drew the character that way and I thought it was a great choice. Anyone can be a scientist. We need to break down the barriers that prevent everyone who wants to be a scientist from achieving that dream.
 

NASA

CTB: You’ve said that if you could go anywhere in space, you would travel to Jupiter’s Moon, Europa. Why that location?
 
Rosemary: That’s such a good question. The moons of our solar system are, in my opinion, so much more amazing than our planets! Europa is fantastic, with a front seat view of beautiful Jupiter. It’s the smoothest object in the whole solar system. It’s covered in a beautiful cracked crust of frozen water. Under that ice is, very probably, an ocean. I love to imagine what creatures swim beneath the ice.

Caño Cristales Photo by Moterocolombia

CTB: I think I’m in love with another of your books, Atlas Obscura, which was on the NYT’s bestseller list. It’s filled with wonderfully quirky facts about the world. Which of the locations surprised you most when researching?
 
Rosemary: It’s so hard to choose. I’d probably say Colombia’s Caño Cristales, this sun-soaked, rainbow river that’s colored red and green by plants found nowhere else. It’s beyond beautiful. I’ve never been to Colombia and I really, really want to visit this river someday.

CTB: In preparing for this interview I found myself distracted by the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Science Theory videos (BAHFest). They were hilarious. You were a judge in 2019. Was there a specific bad science theory that stood out?  What bad hypothesis would you love to present if you were a contestant. (Side note – I really REALLY want that trophy!)
 
Rosemary: There were so many good presentations at that event! I remember Jerry Wang’s proposal for a naval warship transported by chickens. It had so many sly jokes. This event is wonderfully ridiculous. If I could be a presenter, I’d probably want to present something about urban nature. Maybe I’d argue that pigeons distract city-dwellers from the overwhelming ennui of existence?

CTB: Your humor and art gives people so much joy. Any advice for budding artists in the classroom who might see your work and be inspired to create their own?
 
Rosemary: Do it! Find something funny, sketch out a comic, and make one! You have your own unique perspective, humor, and talent, and the world would love to see what you make. You can change the world without being serious all the time. There’s space for humor in activism and change.

CTB: Is there anything new coming out that we should keep our eyes out for?
 
Rosemary: I’ve got a picture book about butterflies coming out in April, 2021 through Tundra. It’s called Butterflies Are Pretty… Gross! and it’s a book about how butterflies are more than just pretty – they’re also ecologically fascinating and disgusting! I have a few other books on the horizon, too. Stay tuned!
 
 

Win a FREE copy of Science Comics: Solar System.

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!

 
 
Rosemary Mosco makes books and cartoons that connect people with the natural world. Her Bird and Moon nature comics were the subject of an award-winning museum exhibit and are collected in a book that’s a 2019 ALA Great Graphic Novel for Teens. She speaks at birding festivals and writes for Audubon , Mental Floss and the PBS kids’ show Elinor Wonders Why. You can find her at www.RosemaryMosco.com  For fun facts and hilarious nature comics, follow @RosemaryMosco on Twitter.
 
Fun facts:
Rosemary once drew a poster showing every snake in North America. It took six months and the help of six herpetologists.

She credits her pet birds for helping her write by taking the keys off her keyboard and pooping on the floor.
 
I learned early on, if you attach a joke and you make it funny enough to pretty much any fact in the universe, people will share it just because of the joke, and then the facts will tag along and people will learn things….” Rosemary Mosco

 

Christine Taylor-ButlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of Bathroom Science, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Genetics, and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the STEM inspired middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram

STEM Tuesday — Planets and Stars — Writing Tips and Resources

Look Up

“We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” ― Carl Sagan

 

Orion Nebula, By NASA, JPL-Caltech, J. Stauffer (SSC/Caltech) – NASA JPL, Public Domain

Estimates calculate our speed traveling on Earth through the universe to be around 492,126 miles per hour. That’s fast! Under such conditions as our tiny planet races through the heavens, our very existence on Earth seems against all odds. We are improbable beings. Nevertheless, we exist. We occupy our tiny niche on our tiny planet revolving around a tiny star inside a tiny galaxy.

There are times, though, when our world seems to be spinning out of control. We drift farther away from each other at the very moment we need each other the most. At times like these, it’s good to step back, take a deep breath, and remember the gift of having our place in the universe. We need to remember humans are designed to explore, discover, create, and share. This holds true not just for STEM but across the spectrum of existence.  

We are improbable beings, yet here we are. Why not make the most of this improbable existence?

This STEM Tuesday Writing Tips & Resources post will seem a departure from the usual fabulous content delivered by Heather Montgomery and Kirsten Larson. The Writing Tips & Resources tip for this month’s Planets & Stars theme (and all year!) is simple and yet often forgotten.

Look up.

Be awed. Explore. 

Be curious. Discover.

Be inspired. Create. 

Be humbled. Share. 

Look up.

Creation. Sistine Chapel. Public Domain.

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

The Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files this month has its origins in my childhood fascination with space. It’s fueled by my recent STEM writer’s interest in electromagnetic waves which, in turn, led back to space and the study of our place in the universe. In short, all roads lead to the rabbit hole of curiosity and inquiry.

The Cosmos Series

This family of TV shows, originally by Carl Sagan and revived by Neil deGrasse Tyson, are some screen time I definitely need to catch up on and revisit.

Speaking of Neil deGrasse Tyson…

               

Starts With a Bang

I’ve been reading Ethan Siegel’s stuff for a few years on Medium and recently found out he has a podcast too. Highly recommended by me!

Down to Earth (Netflix)

To say I was skeptical about this Zac Ephron documentary series would be an understatement of galactic proportions. I was pleasantly surprised, however, and despite a bit of pseudosciencey stuff, I learned and/or realized a great deal about our interactions with the planet. It was also my first introduction to superfood guru, Darin Olien, which has been a good thing. My single favorite lightbulb moment was in Episode 2 about the changes Paris has made about their water supply and access to it. After years of water quality issues, followed by the years of generating mountains of plastic waste with the bottled water “solution”, Parisian officials did the most Occam’s Razor thing possible. Instead of continuing to create more problems by solving the basic problem of poor water quality, they simply invested the capital in producing and distributing better quality water. A touch of brilliance I discovered in the most unexpected of places…from the dude who starred in that Disney movie my kids used to love to watch.

I guess there’s a hidden lesson there also –> Look up/Pay attention.

Down to Earth with Zac Efron | Netflix Official Site


STEM Tuesday — Planets and Stars — In the Classroom


Earlier this year, I read a bunch of books about astronauts. For this month’s theme, I read about astronomical things. (Things related to astronomy, not enormous things – although many astronomical things are astronomical. But I digress…)

The books I read were:
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Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet
by Buzz Aldrin and Marianne J. Dyson (2019)

This book imagines what life will be like for the first astronauts and colonists to reach Mars. It looks at how people and things will get there, what their living quarters will look like, and what they might eat for meals. It has activities sprinkled throughout to help understand and think more deeply about different concepts.
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A Black Hole is NOT a Hole
by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, Illustrated by Michael Carroll (2012/2017)

I had only a very general idea of what a black hole was before I read this book. It did a great job of explaining what a black hole is and how astronomers have learned about them – especially since they’re kind of hard to visit.

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Beyond the Solar System: Exploring Galaxies, Black Holes, Alien Planets, and More
by Mary Kay Carson (2013)

If you are curious about how human beings have come to understand what’s out in space, this is the book for you. It chronicles important astronomical discoveries and how they have shaped our understanding of Earth and its place in the universe throughout time. It’s packed with activities that help to understand and further explore different concepts.
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The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity (2012/2017) by Elizabeth Rusch

This book tells the story of the Mars rovers named Spirit and Opportunity. This book does a lot more than follow the journey of these robots on Mars. It also gives a glimpse into the world of engineering, geology, and so much more.

 

As always, a great way to explore these books is to do some of the activities in those that have them and explore the back matter (the stuff at the end of the book). Each book recommends additional books and web sites to check out.

Here are a few additional ideas.

Do Some Star, Planet, & Satellite Gazing

Several of the books suggest this activity. It’s a great way to start getting curious about what’s out in space. All you really need is time and a place to sit and watch the night sky. If you want to see things in more detail, a pair of binoculars or a telescope can help.

Want to know what you’re looking at? Check out Sky and Telescope’s “This Week’s Sky At A Glance” (https://skyandtelescope.org/observing/sky-at-a-glance) or Astronomy’s “The Sky This Week” (https://astronomy.com/observing/sky-this-week) for guidance. You could also download an app like Google Sky or Stellarium. There’s a good list of sky watching apps here: https://astrobackyard.com/astronomy-apps-for-stargazing.

If you want to be more scientific and/or creative, keep a sky watching journal. Any notebook or collection of papers can do. Jot down the date, time, and location for each session. Note the weather and sky conditions – while the weather may be fair, there may be a lot of light pollution from nearby buildings and/or towns that make it difficult to see the planets and stars. Then write down what you see.

Where in the sky was it? (A diagram might help – especially if you can note its relation to known things like the Big Dipper.)
What color was it?
Did its light shimmer or hold steady?
Did it move quickly? (If so, it’s probably a satellite – or perhaps just an airplane.)

You can journal about whatever your thoughts inspire you to. What do you imagine you’re looking at? What if you were able to travel there? Does it inspire you to write a song or a poem? Go for it.

Get a Daily Dose of Astronomy

Even if you can’t get out to gaze at the night sky often, you can get a daily dose of astronomy. NASA posts an “Astronomy Picture of the Day,” often referred to as APoD: https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html.

Every day, this site posts a picture related to astronomy, along with some kind of explanation. You can browse the archives or use the index or search features to see images of whatever celestial entity, person, or space tech you’re interested in.

Following the index to a topic gives a short list created by the editors as the most educational. Here is their list for Mars: https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/mars.html. For a more thorough listing of photographs, go through the search feature.

Take It With You (?)

Imagine you were one of the first colonists traveling to Mars. In Welcome to Mars, Buzz Aldrin points out that NASA is figuring out what you need to survive and how to get it there. As for personal items, you will be allowed to take items that total up to 5 pounds (2.3 kg).

What would you take with you? Why?

Look at how much each thing weighs. This would be a good time to learn how to calibrate and use a scale. If you don’t have a scale, do a little research online to see if you can find a weight for your item. Or you could build your own balance scale, like the one here: https://www.thoughtco.com/kid-science-make-a-balance-scale-2086574. Then you just need to have items with known weights to compare with your objects.

Add up the weights of the things you want to bring. If you go over 5 pounds, you’ll have to let something go.

You thought getting into space was challenging? I think deciding what to take might be more so.

And if you want to watch a show that imagines the journey to Mars, there is a TV series called Mars – https://www.nationalgeographic.com/tv/shows/mars – that does so. It is currently available on Disney+ and Netflix; it may be available on other streaming services, too.

Make Some Celestial Art

It was pretty clear from reading these books that art plays a big role in astronomy – even if it’s only to convey ideas to the general public. Many of the images we see are “false colored.” There is a great explanation of this on NASA’s Earth Observatory web site: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/FalseColor/page1.php, and another one on the Hubble site: http://hubble.stsci.edu/gallery/behind_the_pictures/meaning_of_color/index.php. Computers translate sensor data into an image we can see. There is a more advanced explanation, with links to other resources, here: https://asd.gsfc.nasa.gov/blueshift/index.php/2016/09/13/hubble-false-color.

Now it’s time to get creative with an astronomical spin.

Add Your Own Color

Print out a black-and-white image of something celestial. Here are a few, or you can search around for more:
https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/images/299819main_hs-2005-35-b-print_full.jpg
https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0514b
https://arasteo.blogspot.com/2016/11/helix-nebulangc-7293ha-5nm.html.

Add your own color, using colored pencils, markers, or paint. Try out different color schemes and/or different media.

Create Your Own Starry Night

This blog post – https://artfulparent.com/sticker-resist-starry-night-cards – has instructions for making “starry night” cards. It uses stickers and a salt-watercolor technique. Instead of stickers, you could color in the “stars” with white crayon. The watercolor paint will not adhere wherever the crayon is.

You could use this technique to make cards of different constellations. (There is a set of free printable constellation cards here: https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/constellation-activities.)

To learn more about the salt painting technique, there’s a detailed tutorial here: https://www.scratchmadejournal.com/blog/painting-with-salt-watercolor-tutorial or look around for others.

And if you want to explore Vincent VanGogh’s Starry Night, there are lots of things out there, including this printable: https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/starry-night-for-kids.

Listen to Space-Inspired Music

Lots of artists have been inspired by space and the planets. One of my favorite musical compositions is The Planets by Gustav Holst. Look it up on your favorite streaming service or check a copy out of your local library. There’s a neat listening guide for this piece on ClassicFM: https://www.classicfm.com/composers/holst/pictures/holsts-planets-guide

Composer Eric Whitacre was inspired by the Hubble Telescope’s Deep Field Image. You can listen to the music while watching the images that inspired it here: https://youtu.be/yDiD8F9ItX0.

What do you think of Holst and Whitacre’s interpretations of outer space?

To learn more about how Eric Whitacre’s piece came about, listen to SolveItForKids podcast Episode 5: How Do You Compose Music That’s As Big As the Universe? https://solveitforkids.com/podcast/episode-4-how-do-you-compose-music-that-is-as-big-as-the-universe. (And while you’re there, check out the other space-themed podcast episodes.)

Explore Your Universe!

I could go on, but then we’d all never get on with our days. Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas that will inspire you to explore the universe in different ways. Have fun with your explorations!

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Janet Slingerland has written more than 20 books for children, including many about science-y topics. While she doesn’t do a lot of stargazing, her husband is an astronomy buff. In 2017, Janet and her family traveled to Nashville, TN to see the solar eclipse. This picture shows their viewing spot (along with Janet’s husband and her older son). Although clouds got in the way of a good view of the totality (the full blocking of the sun), the experience was still pretty amazing.

To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website: janetsbooks.com.