Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Modeling the Swallowtail

Modeling has long been used by scientists to replicate and manipulate what they are researching. Physical, conceptual, and computer models have turned out to be important components of scientific research because they allows us to see things. These different modeling forms become incredible useful when studying incredibly large (think solar system) and very small (think atomic) systems. Or, in the case of two researchers at Harvard University, something delicate and fleeting. (To learn more about modeling as a research method, click here.)

Researchers Hiroto Tanaka and Isao Shimoyama have managed to create a model of the swallowtail butterfly's wing. Their research has not only shown how the undulating flight pattern of the swallowtail allows it to conserve energy, but the physiological importance of veins within the wing. By creating a physical model of the butterfly from a thin polymer film and balsa wood (it weighs 0.4 grams, only slightly heavier than the actual creature), they have been able to compare the flight patterns of the model butterflies (with and without veins) to live ones. After recording the live and artificial creatures on high speed film, Tanaka and Shimoyama were able to compare the data and begin to understand how simple up and down movement can create forward-thrust.  It turns out, as well, that the presence of veins in the wings give them more rigidity, and therefore more lift for the effort expended. Lift was also enhanced by the undulating flight pattern of the butterfly.

The full research report is publicly available in the June issue of the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Journal Nature Continues Open Access Efforts

Last week, the journal Nature announced that seven more of their Publishing Group journals will give authors an open access option -- taking the total number of NPG journals with open access up to 25. By paying an author processing charge, authors can choose to make the article freely available to the public.

There has been a lot of discussion and debate in recent years about open access to scientific and scholarly material. On the 'pro' side, we have the argument that the results of any research funded with public tax dollars should be made freely accessible to anyone -- scientist or otherwise. Why should anyone who pays tax dollars need to then pay the thousands of dollars it might cost to purchase a subscription to leading journals? On the 'anti' side, we have the claim that making this material free and open to the public will take away necessary operating funds of many of these journals. Plus, there has been little discussion on the repercussions of what making this knowledge available to everyone might mean.

As educators and researchers, though, we know how important it is to have access to the most up-to-date information on what it happening in our fields. We can't "stand on the shoulders of giants" if we only have access to their knees. So, today, in addition to highlighting Nature's contribution, we'd like to show folks where they can find information on what journals currently offer open access options.

The Directory of Open Access Journals provides free, full text, quality controlled scholarly and scientific journals and should be your first stop. Then, check out some of these:
Have other open access resources that you think are great? Let us know by commenting here, or on our Facebook page. For more on the open access discussion, read this article in Science.

Image from, courtesy of graur razvan ionut

Friday, May 21, 2010

Science Fiction Meets Real World -- The First "Synthetic" Cell

Image courtesy of Science/AAAS
It isn't quite the same as Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley's splicing of human and animal DNA to create a human-chimera, but scientists in in Rockville, Maryland have announced that they have created the very first "synthetic" cell. In today's issue of Science, Gibson et al. working at the J. Craig Venter Institute provide information on the research that has led to the creation of a chromosome from scratch, and ultimately to a self-replicating, live cell. The nucleotides of a common bacterium's DNA were digitalized using a computer, then assembled into sequence segments. Many of the sequences even carry a watermark with the names of the scientists involved in the project!

The research seems to have come straight out of Hollywood (ironically, Brody's film Splice is about to be released in theaters). While they have not created a new life form, the discovery is being heralded by some scientists as the greatest scientific discovery in the history of humankind, putting the team on a pedestal with Galileo and Descartes because this work could potentially act as a stepping stone to the creation of novel life forms, bio-fuels and medicines, among other things.

But, with great power comes great responsibility, and individuals concerned about the ethics and consequences inherent in such a discovery have voiced their opinions and concerns in Science's rival, the journal Nature. The eight opinions shared serve as an excellent resource for anyone interested in exploring controversy in science or ethics (for more on these, see our Visionlearning's Scientific Ethics module).

Tell us what you think? In light of this research, should the federal government set more detailed guidelines on what can and cannot be done in the laboratory? Is this potentially the eugenics of the 21st century? Where do we draw the line in manipulating DNA?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Vine that Ate the South

Take a drive through parts of the southern US and you'll notice a bright green, ivy-like plant forming tents over many trees and telephone poles. It drapes itself from any possible hold, leaves vying for every ray of sunlight. In small bits it can be beautiful, but at the rate it's taking over the South it's downright scary.

The Kudzu vine (Pueraria montana) is an invasive species, originally from Asia, that was introduced to the southern US in the 1870s. In the mid 1900s, farmers and the Civilian Conservation Corps were encouraged to plant the vine wherever there was bare soil in an effort to reduce erosion. Unfortunately, like many introduced species (think starlings and zebra mussels) the kudzu vine was able to adapt to its new environment very quickly, sending out runners to establish new plants. (Click here to learn more about adaptation.) The result was that the vine began to quickly smother native species -- they can grow as much as 60 feet in one season, one foot per day!

New research published in PNAS shows that the kudzu not only chokes out other plants, but it's starting to choke out humans, as well. Like other legumes, kudzu and nitrogen-fixing bacteria in soil form symbiotic relationships. The bacteria help the plant to grow by producing ammonium; the plant gives the bacteria a nice, safe place to live. As the new research shows, however, the rate at which nitrogen is being fixed is problematic.

The journal Science explains: "The fast-growing legume fixes atmospheric nitrogen at a really high rate and the resulting increases in nitrogen cycling has triggered a dramatic increase in nitric oxide emissions from soils, according to a new paper in PNAS. Nitric oxide is a key precursor to ozone, and while this usefully blocks the sun’s harmful rays when it’s high in the atmosphere, it is an air pollutant that damages lungs and prevents plants from absorbing carbon dioxide when it occurs at the surface."

Are you or your students conducting research on invasive species? We would love to hear about it! Share your thoughts here, or on our Facebook page.

Click here for more information on nitrogen cycling.

Image by lowresolution via Flickr

Monday, May 17, 2010

Blossom Bats and Woolly Rats and Frogs That Inflate Their Nose -- Oh My!

Let's face it -- in this day and age it can be pretty hard to be surprised. Decades of video games and thriller books and movies have left us a little desensitized. We're pretty sure we've seen it all. That's why it's especially refreshing when new discoveries are verified that rival some of the best fiction out there.

In Indonesia, scientists have identified a hot spot for biodiversity. Originally discovered in 2008, the incredible variety of species in this area have been independently verified. Included in the mix are a bat that feeds only on the nectar of rain forest flowers, a giant woolly rat, the world's smallest wallaby, and a frog that calls to mates by inflating its nose, rather than its throat.

According to Conservation International (as reported by CNN), the 300,000 square hectares of pristine rain forest are "a profound species generator" and a "critical carbon-sink for the planet." (Indonesia was also recently in the news for being the home of a new species of Monitor Lizard, discovered outside of a small village in the Philippines.)

These new discoveries serve as a great reminder that there is still so much to learn about this planet and the species that live on it. With a little luck, this surge of discovery in Indonesia will help to protect some of the more delicate ecosystems for posterity. It might even help us learn a little more about ourselves!

Have you been talking about biodiversity and unique species in your classrooms? Tell us about it!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

NOAA Wants to Hear What You (and your Students) Have to Say

The politics of environmental protection can be exhausting. As we often see, there is a cost-benefit analysis in every proposed change (look no further than the rationale for BP's use of less effective dispersant in the oil cleanup). But the general public does get to have a say many times -- whether or not they know it.

We often here people say that every time we make a purchase, we're casting a vote for what we care about. Do you buy produce that has been shipped halfway around the world instead of what is grown locally? Do you eat seafood that is over-fished or not sustainable? Now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) is taking this to another level. NOAA is looking to gather public opinion on ways to reduce the effect of commercial fishing on marine mammals worldwide.

So much of the  seafood that American's consume on a daily basis comes from outside of American waters, where commercial fisherman are not required to adhere to the policies American fisherman do. If your class is interested in policy work, marine protection, or the environment in general, have them read the Federal Register announcement for what NOAA is proposing.  Then, draft a letter or email to NOAA and let them know the consensus.

Members of the public are invited to comment by 5 p.m. Eastern Time on June 29, 2010 via electronic comment at, fax (301-713–2313) or mail (mail to: Director, Office of International Affairs, Attn: MMPA Fish Imports Provisions, NMFS, F/IA, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910).

Image copyright Tom Curtis

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It's National Lab day -- How Are You Celebrating?

National Lab Day was introduced by a large coalition of educators and STEM organizations in November 2010. It's aim? To give an adrenaline shot of excitement about innovation in STEM disciplines to American youth. Today is the official National Lab Day, and we want to hear about what you're doing to celebrate.

The plan for NLD was that, over the course of the last few months, educators interested in conducting STEM projects (and professionals in the STEM disciplines interested in volunteering) would pair up through the NLD website. It appears that while the initiative hasn't been too heavily advertised, they've nevertheless managed to get a good start to the national event. The interactive Projects Map on the website shows what projects are already underway, and some of these are quite exciting!
  • Students in Georgia are working on a Human Biology Project to explore how humans fit into the main branches of biology (e.g. ecology, classficiation).
  • In Minnesota, first graders are exploring how variables such as air and water effect the distance a rocket (powered by water or air) can go.
  • California students are researching how solar panels work, and how they can get a grant for installing them on their school to reduce energy costs.
All in all, it looks as though there are 1,381 projects around the country registered with the NLD site. With some luck, many of the students involved in these projects will feel the excitement that can be had from a career in the STEM disciplines, and will continue on to become America's next generation of innovators.

Are you participating in National Lab Day? Tell us about your project and experiences!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Misconceptions in the Wake of BP's Spill

Back in March, we spent some time on this blog discussing a few of the misconceptions students (and the general public) often hold about science and its process. We talked about the importance of understanding that scientists do not work in a vacuum, that disagreement is common -- our answers aren't always right, but it's not always because we're wrong -- and that scientific problems are not something you "solve." Today, we'd like to offer a gentle reminder of another misconception: what we hear in the media is not always true.

Yesterday, President Obama told students at Hampton University: "You're coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don't rank all that high on the truth meter." Nothing could be more true in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill. It's easy to forget that the spokespeople we rely on each day for our national and international news have ideological biases. There is a stark difference, let's say, between the day's news reported by John Stewart and the same news reported by Bill O'Reilly. Regardless of political affiliations, we need to remember that each has a slant, a perspective they want to get across. (There is a reason journalists study persuasive writing.)

So as we watch the oil spill in the Gulf grow into the worst spill in US history and hear the latest reports on the efforts to clean it up, let's take a few moments to think objectively and use the science to questions some of the statements being bantered around in the media.

1: "The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and left out there... It's natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is." [Rush Limbaugh] While Limbaugh's optimism is noteworthy, let us not forget that the natural earth cycles, like the carbon cycle, have a process that often takes millions of years. So, yes, while biological systems can accommodate for some degree of 'spillage', it's not quite the same as a man-made drill poking a hole in the earth's crust and releasing millions of gallons of crude oil in a heavy stream. Our ecosystems (aquatic or not) are not equipped to respond to such abrupt and significant changes. Also,  the term "natural" does not always mean healthy or good. Would he say the same if it were a sudden release of mercury into the environment?

2: "Way too much is being made of the oil that is coming out there in the Gulf. All of that will get cleaned up." [T. Boone Pickens] Again, noteworthy for the optimism, but a bit dismissive of the significance of the effect it has, and will continue to have, on the delicate ecosystems along the coast. Plankton, the tiny microbial organisms (plant and animal) living in water, are the basis for the wetland and oceanic food chain. Their die-off effects the long-term productivity of the ecosystem, throwing a big chink into the food chain. In the short term, larger creatures such as fish, turtles and birds are suffocating and dying from exposure as a result of coming in contact with the oil. The death toll from the Exxon Valdez was significant, in part, because of the slow response to clean up.

3. All fishing in the Gulf has been halted because the sea food is contaminated. [Reported by various national news agencies.] While a specific area of the Gulf has been closed off to fishing -- the area near the spill -- there is plenty of fishing going on in other areas. Obviously, with the effect on wildlife already starting to show, everyone is concerned about the quality of seafood coming from the region. But it is important to remember that fishing has only been closed off in areas where there is possible contamination. There is a significant area of the Gulf that has not seen oil contamination yet, and so the fishery stocks are untouched.

There are many statements being thrown around in the media, including this being an act of eco-terrorism from 'tree-huggers'. As we navigate the maze of opinion, let's remember to take each with a bit of skepticism and look for the elements of truth that can be supported by evidence. Rather than take a spokesperson's opinion as fact, do the research and figure out what really makes sense. Learn more about different biological processes and environmental cycles at Visionlearning.

Have a misconception that is bothering you? Share it with us here, or on our Facebook page.

Friday, May 7, 2010

What Makes Us Human? Decoding the Neandertal

It's no secret that the Homo sapiens species is unique amongst the animal kingdom. Our brains are highly complex, we've designed and used tools to do more than hunt and build shelter, we've created the iPad and Levi's... It can be easy to see our species as so unlike any other that we forget that there had to have been a time when maybe we weren't quite so special.

In today's issue of Science, Green et al. discuss how they have created a draft sequence of the Neandertal genome (3 different individuals) and compared it to modern humans from different parts of the world. The initial purpose was to try to identify what genome features, specifically, set modern humans apart from other hominids, like apes and Neandertals. But the result of the research turned out to be much more significant.

According to the study, humans and Neandertals coexisted in the Middle East approximately 80,000 years ago (after humans left Africa, but before they spread into Europe and Asia). It's been widely accepted for many years that the two species were distinct enough that interbreeding would not produce viable offspring. Apparently, we were wrong! The study results show that both Europeans and Asians share 1% to 4% of their genes with with Neandertals, but Africans share none -- suggesting that there was likely interbreeding between the two groups during this time.

The team's initial purpose of finding out what makes humans unique was fruitful, as well: "Even though the genomes of humans and Neandertals are 99.84% identical, the researchers identified regions that have changed or evolved since our ancestors and Neandertals diverged sometime between 270,000 and 440,000 years ago -- their new, slightly younger estimate of the split. So far, the team has detected tantalizing differences in genes involved in metabolism, skin, the skeleton, and the development of cognition, although no one knows yet how these genetic changes affect physiology."

This research has opened new doors to our understanding of the genealogy of human beings, and may very well provide us with clues as to why humans survived to modern day, while Neandertals did not. Visit the Science website to see supplementary materials, including podcasts, on this exciting new research.

For more information on heredity and genetics, see our modules on DNA and genetics in the Visionlearning Biology library.

Images used in this posting come from Tomislav Maricic, Chris Stringer AND Ofer Bar-Yosef, as used in Science.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Conversation with George Locke

We all know how beneficial it can be to hear about the journey famous scientists have traveled. Seeing the more human (and less glamorous) side reminds us of how much dedication and diligence comes into success. But hearing from folks just starting out can also be extremely helpful.

Here, Visionlearning sits down for a conversation with George Locke, a PhD candidate in Biological Physics at Rutgers University, for a brief chat about his experiences, and the advice he would offer young folks interested in the sciences. Locke’s current research is on the DNA sequence-specificity of nucleosome formation and transcription factor binding. His first publication is currently under review with Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Visionlearning: George, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Locke: Sure. I was born in Medford, Massachusetts in June of 1982 to two loving parents.  Both had PhDs in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan, but my mother chose to work in insurance to support the family while my father pursued an academic career.  I benefited from a private school education in middle school and high school and went on to college at Tufts where my father is a professor.  I took piano lessons from a young age and began to write music on the computer in junior high.  I maintain a passion for making music, and I also continue the visual arts I picked up in high school.  I have always been good at math and science and had a knack for abstract reasoning, so I naturally gravitated toward physics, with the help of a gifted teacher in high school.  I continued in all these pursuits in college, focusing on physics.  I spent the two years in between my undergraduate and graduate education working for my senior thesis advisors in a supporting role in a neutrino physics experiment.  In this time, I came to feel that physics would provide an exciting and rewarding career, and now I am studying for my PhD.  I married my longtime girlfriend 15 months ago.  I love her more every day. 

VL: How long have you been studying and working in your physics?
Locke: If you start with my first research project, that was in 2004.  My first course in basic physics was as a junior in high school, 1998–89, and I have been working in and studying physics since then.

VL: You’ve described your current research to be about DNA sequence-specificity of nucleosome formation and transcription factor binding. Can you translate that into layman’s terms?
Locke: Sure. If you were to take all of the DNA in one of your cells and lay it out in a straight line, it would be more than six feet long.  However, the cell nucleus where all of that DNA lives has a diameter one millionth of that length.  In order to put so much DNA in such a small space, eukaryotic organisms (everything but bacteria) do a great deal of work to compact the size of their genomes.  The collection of DNA and the architectural elements that pack it so tightly is called chromatin.  The structure of chromatin has implications for how the cell operates, since the more tightly a particular gene is packed, the harder it is to use (transcribe).  My work is a study of the fundamental unit of chromatin: the nucleosome.  Nucleosomes are tiny bundles of DNA wrapped around a core of stiff proteins called histones.  Nucleosomes cover about 80% of the genome in every living animal, plant, and fungus, and they form the basis of larger chromatin structures.  I and my collaborators seek to predict what DNA sequences are more or less likely to form nucleosomes, using statistical physics to analyze experimental data.  (Statistical physics is the branch of physics which describes the aggregate behavior of systems with many particles, e.g. molecules in a gas.) We are currently extending our methods to study the general case of protein-DNA binding.

VL: Was studying physics something you always knew you wanted to do, or did you start out on a different path?
Locke: In college, I considered a music major but found that writing about music was impossible for me, at least the sort of analysis my teachers expected.  Prior to college I considered pursuing a BFA in visual art after my BA, but by the time I finished my Bachelor’s that seemed like an unrealistic career path.

VL: What is it about physics that you find exciting and/or inspiring?
Locke: Science as a project is something I find very exciting in general.  I want to know about the world, and I like the idea that I can contribute to the body of human understanding, producing knowledge that will be valuable after I am dead and gone.  Physics in particular is a way of looking at the world.  Physicists like to see the world in the simplest terms possible, reducing a physical system to its essence.  Sometimes this means ignoring fine points, but the goal is to arrive at fundamental parameters controlling large-scale behavior.  Explaining the collective in terms of the participant is fun, elegant, beautiful, and exciting. 
Biological physics involves the application of ideas in physics to biological problems.  It is fun to see how theories designed to explain the behavior of gases and particles can describe the behavior of living things.  This historical moment seems to be the perfect time to enter the broader field of quantitative biology, now that we understand enough of the basic physical mechanisms and we have the computing power to apply this understanding.  In particular, the idea that biological physics can contribute to medical applications down the line is exciting, and the idea of improving quality of life through basic research is very attractive.  
The whole business seems like it’s worth doing in terms of ethics – science is a valuable contribution to culture and the technology deriving from it can solve human problems (it can create them too, but on balance it’s a win).  I’m happiest when I exercise my faculties in the service of a goal that I find worthwhile.  Summing up: I value the product, and the process is rewarding in itself.

VL: When you first started out, what did you find was the most surprising about conducting research? Did you have any misconceptions going into it?
Locke: I can’t think of any big surprises.  One thing that I guess surprised me is how much factors besides science influenced my choice of field.  Factors such as duration of experiment/project (in high energy physics one begins planning an experiment 10 years in advance of getting data), size of research group, the kinds of analysis one does (using pre-made computational tools vs. making your own, data analysis versus simulation, etc).  Each sub-field has its own culture.

VL: How does creativity come into play with your work? How would you describe your process of discovery?
To be honest, I am having a lot of trouble finding my own creativity in my work.  At least in the large scale of choosing projects and choosing analytical tools, I feel more like I’m picking through a tool-box rather than creating anything new.  This isn’t so bad, it just doesn’t feel very creative.  I find myself dissatisfied with my creative output vis a vis my research, but I’m still relatively early in my career so I’m not too exasperated just yet.  It’s not unlikely that I’m just being too hard on myself and fail to see my own strengths.

VL: How did you end up studying and working at Rutgers?
Locke: Well, I wanted to move away from Boston, where I had spent my whole life, and learn what it was like to make my own space.  I chose Rutgers for several reasons: it was well located, highly regarded, had an excellent student-faculty ratio (about 1.5:1 !), and the department was large, which was important to me since I wasn’t sure what sub-field I was going into as an entering student.  Plus, I knew a member of the department who could support me, which was nice since it allowed me to avoid being a Teacher’s Assistant during the first year of classes, which is very demanding.

VL: Do your hobbies and interests outside of work influence your research?
Locke: It’s hard to say.  I have diverse interests (drawing and painting, experimental music, cooking, philosophy).  I think my interest in philosophy is helpful in making and analyzing scientific arguments.  Whatever influence there is, and there must be significant influence, is more or less out of my awareness.  To a certain extent, my interest in matters outside of physics distracts me from my research – many academic researchers seem to be single-minded in their devotion to their work, and that is not for me.

VL: What do you think is the most exciting recent development or discovery in science?
Locke: Oh, gee…maybe mapping the human genome?  I see a lot of developments in biology that show great potential for medicine but the applications are still a ways out of reach.  Our dramatically increasing understanding of genetic networks may create a paradigm shift in terms of drug design: if we know which genetic pathways are messed up in a certain disease then we should, in principle, be able to set them right. 
I also see huge potential for nanomaterials.  There was a recent publication of a way to extend the life of a battery 10-fold or something by putting carbon nanotubes inside the battery.

VL: In the last decade, we’ve seen a lot of advancements in science and technology. With this in mind, what do you think the future is for physics? Is technology changing the way you think about and conduct research?
Locke: 100%.  Computational power opens up so many doors in research, at least the sort of research I do – bigger simulations, more data, etc.  Astrophysics benefits a lot from computational power – the first simulations of galaxy mergers involved ~30 particles per galaxy and more recently this explodes into the hundreds of thousands, with more and more complex physics included.  Same for particle and solid state physics, or any other sub-field you care to mention.  Experimental particle physics may be hitting a barrier in terms of the size of their accelerators.

VL: We really appreciate your taking the time to chat with us, George. My last question is this: What advice would you give to students or young people thinking about a career in the sciences?
Locke: If you know you want to go into science and you’re considering what specific area you want to go into, consider what kinds of activities someone in that field engages in on a day-to-day level.  You have to be passionate about the science, but you also have to enjoy the practicum.  Pick a school that fits your personality.  Your relationship with your grad advisor is of prime importance.  If you’re in undergrad, don’t forget to have fun!!  If you’re in high-school, try your best to find good teachers, as basically every scientist I know decided what area of science to pursue based on their high school experiences.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Use the EPA in Classroom Reseach Projects

It's no secret that finding quality information on the Internet can be hit or miss. As educators working with a large body of students, helping students conduct online research can leave you needing a time out in the teacher's lounge! And yet, data collection and analysis is such an important part of learning about science that it can't be skipped. Fortunately, many government bodies and environmental organizations are working to make quality, reliable information easier to come by. Today, we're highlighting the wonderful resource that the Environmental Protection Agency has put together.

First off, the EPA home page gives easy links to current news events. Today's page highlights the latest information on the EPA's response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, comments from Administrator Lisa P Jackson (yes, she tweets), and a list of the most popular topics people are concerned about.

The Learn the Issues page lets visitors gather comprehensive, detailed information on water and water pollution, climate, green living, ecosystems and other areas of concern. This is a particularly good starting place for students who are in their general information gathering phase. The page also lists a series of popular questions posed to the EPA, with complete answers.

The Science and Technology page provides information on research that the EPA is currently conducting. Today's articles include a discussion on the use of nanotechnology for breaking down pollutants, and tracking air pollution.

But, probably the most useful tool for your classroom is the EPA's featured item: MyEnvironment. For such a great feature, it can be a little difficult to find. On the home page, down near the bottom (in the middle), is the small green 'MyEnvironment' text with an empty box for inserting a zip code or town name. Type in the information for a specific US location, et voila! What you get is a page filled with information on everything from pollutant risks for the area, to air quality, to the locations that report data to the EPA. There are lists (by street) of businesses that use hazardous materials in their work, statistics on ozone and radon concentrations, even a list of what EPA cleanups are taking place in the community. For example, the image above shows the cancer risks for midtown Manhattan in 2002 (the latest statistics).

This compendium of information is easily accessible and may just be the key to helping your students on their next data collection project. If you want to direct them in their environmental research and fact-gathering, but don't have the time for weeding through reliable resources, make this your first classroom stop.

Have other sites you think are worth mentioning? Share them here, or on our Facebook page.