Friday, March 30, 2007

Working in the Laboratory Facilities

Today, well yesterday since it is very late now, I spent most of my work time in the Biology Lab. I dusted off some of my old lab skills and learned a few new tricks as well. We worked on some of the same soil samples that we collected on Monday while performing the transect. Today, our job was to prepare biological products for two different tests.

One process is called PCR which stands for polymerase chain reaction. Read about this process by clicking on this link.

1. From the above web site, why do you think lab facilities perform PCR? What is the point?

Another process was called Electrophoresis. Read about electrophoresis at:

2. Describe electrophoresis.

3. Why would it be used?

4. Do you think PCR or electrophoresis is the better test for our soil samples? WHY?

Have a great Spring Break for those of you who go on break soon.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Lava Tubes - Homes for Space Travelers?

Today we visited a lava tube in the Cima lava fields here in the Mojave Desert. A lava tube is special geologic feature associated with volcanoes. Scientists believe that there are some lava tubes on the moon and on Mars. Scientists also believe that astronauts might want to live in lava tubes if we can find them.

Many of the scientists at Zzyzx this week are trying to answer questions about lava tubes. I spent this afternoon in one and got to learn from some of the leading scientists on this issue. We discussed issues such as finding microorganisms in lava tubes, thermal imaging to locate lava tubes, and robotic exploration of lava tubes. It was really fun to learn from the experts!

Check out this web site:

Answer these questions about lava tubes.

1. How is a lava tube formed?

2. Where are they found on Earth?

3. Are lava tubes likely to be on the moon?

4. Are lava tubes on the moon safe or are they likely to collapse? Why?

5. List three reasons why we might want to use lava tubes to live in on the moon.

6. How much space is probably in the lava tubes, if there are any, on the moon?

7. Where else in the solar system are we likely to discover lava tubes?

What other questions would you like to know about lava tubes? I know who to ask!


Today, I signed up to play with, ah, I mean, not play exactly, with the rover robots. It was very enjoyable. We learned the systems for how to interface a remote operating computer so that we could drive the robot by simply looking at a screen which let us see what the robot could "see" with the cameras mounted where its eyes would be.

I actually drove the rover for about 20 minutes during an interview with the lead scientist. My job was to keep the robot in the background of the camera. It was a very fun 20 minutes. They conducted the interview on a dry lake bed so the experience was much like being on the moon.

What I want you to do today is to think of reasons why NASA is still working on robots. Since they have had such great success with the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, why are they still trying new things with robots. Try to think of it this way; if you were a NASA scientist, what things would you want a robot to do that humans cannot do?

Make a list of jobs robots could do on the moon or on Mars. Beside each job, maybe in a table, draw or describe what the robot would look like to do each job. Then tell why the robot should do that job instead of an astronaut. Be creative!

For some ideas, do a google search of 'robots in space' or 'NASA robots' to see what you find.

Have some fun with this one.

Monday, March 26, 2007

One Day in the Desert

Today I joined the Soil Transect Team. You may be asking, "What is a SoilTransect Team?". I was asking that as well. Here is a little of what I learned.

A soil transect is an analysis of the microbes living at the surface of the soil across some area of interest. Today our area of interest was the greater Mojave Desert. We drove for nearly two hundred miles before we took our first sample. We started in the area of the desert that receives the most rain and worked our way to the driest part of the Mojave.

Scientists will be determining how many and what kind of microbes are living in the soil and if that changes according to changes in precipitation.

A few years ago, a similar study was done in Yellowstone National Park but instead of moisture changes, scientists were looking for changes in microbes because of soil temperature differences. You can read about how this is done on Just skim the article for a few minutes paying attention to the headings and topic sentences.

The scientific processes described there are exactly how the study we started today will be accomplished.

I didn't see any interesting wildlife today. A storm is approaching and animals are in hiding. Maybe after the storm goes through, I will be able to see some of the animal community.

Another interesting thing I saw today was a variety of alternative energy experiments. Alternative energy means finding ways to make electricity without brning fuel.

On a sheet of paper, write down answers to these 3 questions about power sources in the Mojave Desert:

1. Where is this structure located, specifically?

2. Describe how it makes electricity.

3. How much power does it produce?

Answer the questions above for each group below (9 total answers)

Power Tower

Kramer Junction Power Facility

Mojave Windmill Farm or

More infornation may be found at

Sunday, March 25, 2007

We Have Arrived

We are here in the Mojave Desert at a Research Station. It is really dry, drier even than I predicted. The research station is located along a dry lakebed that is extremely flat. It looks very much like Edwards Air Force Base where NASA somtimes lands the Space Shuttle. Behind the station, away from the dry lakebed, are eroding mountains. It is very different from the gelogic formations of Indiana. I will be working with field geologists sometime this week to learn more.

I learned some information about Zzyzx today. It is not a town as I had thought. Instead, it is a resort from the mid 1940s. It was built to be a Mineral Springs and Health Resort. There are still many remnants of a resort here but most of the facilities have long begun to fall apart.

To learn more of how Zzyzx became a research facility, follow the link:

Now answer these questions:

1. What is the name of the dry lake?

2. Who was the man who built the Health resort?

3. What year did the resort go out of business (as a resort)?

4. Weekend classes are offered at Zzyzx. List 5 topics you could study there.

5. Who prepares the food at Zzyzx?
6. How does the station get electricity?

7. How does the station provide drinking water?

8. which two Mars rovers were developed and tested near Zzyzx? (more at the bottom)

You cannot fly directly to Zzyzx. Get on any site (maybe some travel site) and figure out a way to get to Zzyzx from where you are. Try to figure out how much that trip would cost.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Biomes Introduction

Teachers and students:

Many of the posts on this blog will be specifically for students at Lakeview Middle School to complete some of Indiana's Science Standards. You are most welcome to use any or all of these posts to supplement your own studies.

Living things on the earth are found in the biosphere. The biosphere is made up of many different kinds of biomes. I will be spending a week conducting research in a desert biome. Before we start looking at deserts, I want to you to experience a quick overview of what biomes are, what kinds of biomes there are, and how they are different from one another.

First, on a sheet of paper that you turn to a 'landscape' position, create a table that has 7 columns and 10 rows. Next, label the columns, at the top, with the following headings: Biome, latitudes, temp. range, rainfall, plant types, animals, example of this biome.

You may complete this either in a handwritten document or you may complete this in a word document which you will save into your folder.

Next click on the following link, navigate or 'surf' through the information on this site and complete your table.

You will find:

3 forest biomes
2 grassland biomes
2 tundra biomes
4 desert biomes - only include the "hot and dry desert biome" and the "cold desert biome".

Also, for now, skip the water biomes: freshwater and marine biomes.

Good luck.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Students and teachers,

Welcome to what will be an amazing adventure for me. I hope some of the experiences that I share with you will be interesting to you. Feel free to post questions at any time. I will try to answer them as quickly as I can.

A little later this week, I will list the topics I think I will cover next week so that you can look for specific areas of interest. One thing I will try to cover this week: Why does NASA fund research in the desert and why do they send a teacher from Indiana?

My purpose with this post is to establish this blog so that the login info can be shared with those of you who see it.

Stand by.....more info coming soon!