Monday, December 15, 2014

Reflect and Prepare

The end of the year seems to be the time we instinctively tend to reflect on the year we've just experienced. On one hand you want to reflect back on the good times and try to forget the bad. For those in high school or college this time of year provides a valuable gift, time. For those in the workplace there's the rare opportunity for some PTO.

Allowing time to reflect and look forward allows you to learn from your mistakes and act quickly before you make them again. What makes this time so precious is that there's enough of it to be able to do both.  The key is to take the time and do it. As you look back on this last semester, what were the factors that lead to your success?  It's not about having the right teacher or set of circumstances. It's about your actions and your choices. Did you do everything you could to get the outcome you wanted?

As an instructor I see examples of missed opportunities with nearly every student work product. Students go through the assignments too quickly or obviously don't understand the material (and won't ask for help or follow up when offered). Even things like missing class or spending the class time on Social media are missed opportunities to engage. Teachers notice how their students are responding and You better believe all of it directly impacts your grades. 

The same is true for those in the working world. Those around you know whether you are in the zone or phoning it in. They know who they can count on for quality work and who they can't. Those who can't be trusted are the first ones let go when the company is looking to trim the fat.

Here's the good news, a new opportunity is a calendar page turn away. How can you learn from your mistakes and deliberately set yourself up to be successful in the new year? Here's some things to think about it: What will your schedule look like? Do you anticipate a heavy workload in a particular class or work group?  What expectations should you have of your teachers/co-workers and what should they expect from you?  Be honest with yourself about your ability to perform and communicate. If you take the time to prepare yourself for the next challenge you may be able to achieve something that didn't seem possible at the end of the fall term. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Happy Halloween!

With Halloween coming up at the end of the week I thought it would be fun to share some costume ideas with you. Of course these costumes have a scientific theme and perhaps a good pun or two. Hope you enjoy these. Here we go (numbers 3 & 4 are my favorites):

1. Tectonic plate - tectonic plates are segments of the crust that move around on a semi-molten layer within the Earth called the mantle. You can dress the part by using common paper plates to construct a garment or simply make a t-shirt with the name of your favorite plate (mine is Juan-de-fuca). The key to this costume is that once you are at the party you need to move really slowly around the room. BONUS - if you need to get away from a conversation you can always re-enact "continental drift" by slowly wandering in a different direction. 

2. Overturned bed - an overturned bed occurs when a layer of rock has been folded in such a way that it is upside down. You can create this by re-constituting an old baby mattress or other box shaped object and attaching a small pillow/blanket upside down. You could even paint the mattress to look like a particular rock type. 

3. Rock bugs - take a t-shirt and attach small photos of rocks with Velcro. This would work best if the rocks had pipe-cleaner legs attached to them so they look like spiders (or any kind of bug). When you see someone you want to talk to (or think is attractive) you can pretend there are bugs crawling all over you (the better the freak out the more believable) and have that person help you get the rock-bugs off of you. After that is done you can graciously thank them for helping you get your rocks off. Ha!

4. Piece of schist - schist is a metamorphic rock that forms at relatively high degrees of pressure and temperature and contains abundant mica minerals that can resemble pieces of sequence. Glue pieces of sequence to a t-shirt using alternating bands of sequence in shades of brown and silver/green. For added effect you can shape outline of bands like a shape of poo (maybe even use a character like Mr. Hanky from South Park). When anyone asks, you are a real piece of schist. 

For our physics friends........

5. Light wave - so many ways to do this one. One is to wear an article of clothing from a show like "Biggest Loser" and then proceed to wave at people all evening long. Another idea is to dress as a lightbulb and carry a surfboard. A "sciencey" way to go would be to dress as a photon (let's say that looks like an electron or similar particle) and carry the surfboard. You could ask people where you can catch a "light wave". 

6. Black hole - dress all in black and consume all the food you are able to. At random times through the party call a group of people to you and temporarily wrap a large hola hoop (or similar) around everyone as your event horizon. Refer to anyone to gets away from the hula hoop as Hawking Radiation

7. Pumpkin pie - this is a great one for people who want a simple costume. Simply take an orange t-shirt and add the symbol for pi. Added effect if the shirt has a pumpkin on it or there is a pumpkin costume available. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Field Trip!

Had a great time this past Friday with with the Elgin Community College Geology Department. the field trip included stops at Buffalo Rock and Matthiessen State Parks as well as a road cut and privately operated facility. The purpose of the trip was to gain a broader understanding of Illinois geology and see some of the processes being discussed in class. The best part? Getting to see these beautiful destinations during the fall season. 

A recurring theme throughout the trip was interpreting what the environment was like at each stop (paleoenvironment) and how that environment was changing in time. We saw rocks that formed in broad intercontinental beaches, shallow inland seas, heavily vegetated marshes/bogs and sediment laid down by ice sheets tens of meters thick. All of these environments have existed in Illinois starting back in the Ordovician Period (~480 million years ago) through the end of the last Ice Age (~10,000 years ago). Lots more details but I'll leave those for class. 

 This trip is a highlight every semester, thanks to everyone involved for such a great time.  

Bluff Springs

I feel compelled by the beautiful fall season to discuss another field location. This visit is more of a low key scouting adventure for potential field trips at the Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, IL. I must warn you, This park is a bit of a chore to locate. The entrance is hidden within the back of the Bluff City Cemetary off of US Route 20. I'll be the first to admit that this park is well worth the trip. 

What makes this place special is that it is a Fen, which is where artesian springs discharge from shallow bedrock (in this case dolomite). In northern Illinois Fens are not very common due to the thick glacial sediment deposits left behind from the last ice age. Local Fens have evolved into very special places based on the presence of nearly year round running water supply, the unique chemistry of that water, the soils developed as the bedrock surface weathers and the flora/fauna that call the Fen home. 

I found myself drawn to find local Fens to satisfy my search for places where bedrock is present at or near the surface. Too often, the search for great rock outcrops (exposure of rock at the surface) leads geologists west of the Mississippi River where arid climates limit the growth of vegetation. I'll grant that this Fen doesn't match the spectacular vistas or specimen collecting possibilities of those out west, but it demonstrates the interconnection between rock and life. One quick example of this interconnection is the Hines Emerald Dragonfly. This dragonfly is an endangered species that only lives in fens like Bluff Springs due to the specific blend of flora that live in the unique geochemical environment. You can read more about the Hines Emerald Dragonfly here:

What got me hooked in Bluff Springs is the added presence of kames. Kames are a specific feature left over after glacial ice melts away. As glaciers are melting, some of the the sediment they carry is washed into crevasses, cracks in the ice, and deposited in the empty space there. After the ice has completely melted the sediment (ice contact unstratified drift/diamicton) remains in the shape of a hill or mound. There are at least two kames in the park. One of them is rather small (about 15-20 ft high and ~50 ft diameter) and one is much larger (about 50 ft high and a couple hundred feet diameter). The large kame has a lookout at the top with a beautiful view of the fen. I've posted some pictures of the park here:

Hope you are able to find this park and enjoy all that it has to offer. The parks website is here: