“The Big World of Little Critters” at the Metro Children’s Water Festival

Hello everyone! Yesterday was a busy day for Market Science at the Metro Children’s Water Festival, an annual event that offers hands-on activities for students to learn about water, its importance to people and the environment, and how to better protect this most important natural resource. Bringing samples from Staring Lake in Eden Prairie, the Market Science team helped nearly 2,000 4th graders from around the Metro area explore what tiny creatures exist in one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. We used lunchbox microscopes (a special thank-you to InSciEd Out for letting us borrow them!) to display zooplankton, a tiny freshwater invertebrate that eats algae. Students’ eyes lit up with excitement as these miniscule organisms wandered across the screen, swimming through the Petri dish and hunting for algal growth. They especially loved the buttons and temporary tattoos we brought! It was an amazing day, teaching kids and adults alike about the mystery that is our state’s freshwater ecosystems. We can’t wait to return next year!

“Do you remember who Plankton is from Spongebob Squarepants? These zooplankton are his cousins!” – Market Science Outreach Program Assistant, Megan, teaching 4th grade students about zooplankton.

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Market Science at President Gabel’s Inauguration Picnic

Hello everyone! Market Science is back with another update!

This past week brought not only a big heat wave, but also a new president at the University of Minnesota. President Joan T.A. Gabel was sworn in as the 17th University president on Friday, September 20, and to kick off her term, a huge inauguration picnic was held in her honor on the Mall on the East Bank campus. Dozens of vendors, food trucks, the Pride of Minnesota Marching Band, the Spirit Squad – and Market Science, of course! – gathered to enjoy the nice weather and delicious food, as well as learn about all of the various clubs and organizations active here on campus. The Market Science board brought lots of exciting critters for their “Invertebrates” session, including Rosie, the rose-haired tarantula, a cellar spider, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, fiddler crabs, and bean beetles. Over 250 people stopped by to pet Rosie, watch the crabs fight over territory in their tank, and listen to the cockroaches hiss. It was a beautiful, sunny day enjoyed by all, and the Market Science volunteers had a blast spreading the knowledge of science to students, staff, the public, and President Gabel herself!

Welcome to the University of Minnesota, President Gabel. Ski U Mah!

The Market Science board with President Gabel at the Inauguration Picnic, Sept. 20, 2019.

“Teeny teeny tiny” – Bringing nanoparticles to the Market Science circuit

Happy fall semester, everyone! Market Science has been incredibly busy this summer. From organizing market events all over the metro area, to spreading scientific knowledge at the MN State Fair, we have been hard at work all season long, and are excited to continue bringing science to markets this fall. 

One of our session leaders, Stephanie Mitchell, recently brought the mystery of nanoparticles to the Midtown Farmers Market on September 7. Describing them as “teeny teeny tiny,” these nanoparticles were brought out for kids and adults of all ages to see and experiment with. Mitchell and her team brought along both gold nanoparticles and ferrofluid, a nanoscale iron oxide that can be used in cancer treatments. Volunteers helped to show curious market-goers how something so teeny tiny can have such a big effect on technology, like computers and smartphones. Without nanoparticles, many of the electronics we love to use every day wouldn’t work!

For more information on Mitchell’s outreach experience, and to learn more about nanotechnology, click here to access her blog for the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology.

Looking at our bacterial fingerprints!

The Blekhman lab had a great time at Market Science this year! We grew bacteria from people’s fingerprints on LB-agar plates and took pictures after 3 days of growth in our lab. A dog even participated – see section 6 on the plate labeled 6-7-8. If you fingerprinted a plate, check the number on the handout we gave you to see what kinds of microbes are growing on your hands!
To see more examples of growing bacteria on plates, check out our pictures from last year’s Market Science event here: https://marketsci.org/2017/06/16/your-microbiome/.
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Bringing honey bees to the market

Morgan Carr-Markel narrates her team’s experience of bringing honey-bees to the Midtown Farmer’s market in early July –

We had a lot fun leading a stall about honey bee biology at the Midtown Farmers Market on July 7th. Overall, 111 people stopped by and 85 people stayed for at least 5 minutes to learn more about honey bee biology. The star of the show was our glass-walled observation hive – drawing both kids and adults to watch the live honey bees go about their work. This year we had an activity where we asked visitors to look- not just for the queen bee- but also for workers, drones, eggs, larvae, capped pupae, honey, and pollen. This activity provided a great opportunity to talk with visitors about honey bee development, the different castes inside the hive, and bee nutrition. Some kids (and adults) were a little nervous about coming up to the bees, but after seeing their friends touch the glass most people came up and asked us questions.

 

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Photo: Close-up view of a paint-marked queen honey bee laying an egg in our observation hive. She’s surrounded by a retinue of workers.

 

We also had an area for visitors to learn about beekeeping. Kids could try on a bee veil and touch a smoker and hive tool as well as a frames of wax. Nearby we had a hive box with wooden frames holding large photos of bees, which made a great educational display. Our honey bee trivia poster drew people who came to learn cool facts about honey bees (ex. Honey bees stay warm throughout the winter by clustering, eating honey, and shivering their flight muscles; Last year Minnesota beekeepers produced 7.81 million pounds of honey).

 

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Photo: Claire Milsted and Shiala Morales talking with visitors about honey bee biology, native bee diversity, and how we can help all bees thrive.

 

It was great to talk with kids that had visited the native bee Market Science tables the week before and remembered learning about bees’ important role in crop pollination. We had an activity with pipe-cleaner “pollinators” and “flowers” made of jars filled with colored sand (pollen). Kids could move the pollinators from flower to flower and watch them move the colored sand from one to the other, thus “pollinating” the flowers. It was fun making the pipe-cleaner pollinators. In addition, we had a box of pinned bees of many different species from Minnesota to show the wide diversity of native bees here. Many people were interested in helping native bees and we gave out lots of flyers about programs such as the Minnesota Bumble Survey and Bumble Bee Watch as well as a list of flowers to plant for honey bees and native bees. Hopefully, together we can make our world a better place for both people and bees!

 

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Photo: Chris Kulhanek using an educational frame to describe how honey bee workers grow and develop. The observation hive and smoker are to the right of Chris and the bee veil and pipe-cleaner “pollinators”/jars of colored sand “flowers” are to her left.

 

A big thanks to the volunteers who made the day possible: Chris Kulhanek, Isaiah Mack, Claire Milsted, Shiala Morales, Maggie Shanahan

 

 

Your Microbiome

The Blekhman Lab at UMN studies the human microbiome — that amazing, complex microbial community that lives in and on us! If you visited them at Midtown Farmers Market last Saturday, you got the chance to culture your own microbiome. See the photos below and match up your ID number (e.g., A1, A5) with the ID number in the photo to see how (a portion of) your microbiome looks when grown on an agar plate! There are also some additional lab plates that the Blekhman Lab did to give you an idea of what other microbiome members look like.

Virus Biology at Richfield Farmers Market

By: Amy Kendig

While viruses can cause scary diseases in humans, they are not always “bad”. For example, viruses can help plants withstand extreme conditions and humans fight against diseases. Viruses infect organisms from bacteria to elephants, and are important parts of ecosystems around the world. Last week at the Richfield Farmer’s Market, we talked about what viruses are made out of, who they can infect, and how they are transmitted.

Visitors used microscopes to observe aphids feeding on oat leaves. Aphids are one way that viruses can spread through a crop field or wild grassland. They carry the viruses that I study (Barley Yellow Dwarf Viruses) in order to understand how nutrients in the soil affect plant diseases.

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Cross-section drawing of an aphid feeding on plant tissue. It is transmitting viruses known as Barley Yellow Dwarf Viruses (BYDV). Figure source: apsnet.org

While we can’t see viruses with our eyes, scientists have used powerful microscopes to figure out what they look like. Based on these pictures, young scientists built their own models of viruses. They used pipe cleaners to make DNA and Play-Doh to make protein coats because these are two main parts of a virus particle. We talked about what DNA is and how viruses can get inside of hosts. Once we figured out the basics, creativity took over and entirely new viruses were created!

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Finally, visitors played a matching game to figure out which viruses are transmitted by which vectors to certain hosts. They learned that the names of viruses can be associated with the name of the host and that there are many types of vectors.

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One of my favorite parts of Market Science is learning from the people that stop by. For instance, one visitor taught me that mosquito saliva can act as an anesthetic (causing numbness) when biting humans. This can make disease transmission more successful because we are less likely to swat them away. I spoke with another visitor about treatments for rabies virus that are used where he grew up in India. It was interesting to think about how there are multiple perspectives on virus (and other) biology, and the science I used for these Market Science activities comes from just one of these perspectives.

 

Winter is Coming…to Minnesota Trees

by Jake Grossman

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Fall colors near Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, MN October 8, 2016

Even though southern Minnesota is hitting peak leaf color right now, University of Minnesota tree lovers were talking about the transition from summer to fall at the Midtown Farmer’s Market on October 1st. Just like us, trees need to prepare for the winter. Unlike the tomato plants in your garden, which die off and can be replanted from seed in the spring, or prairie grasses, which go dormant at or beneath the surface of the soil, trees have have to survive winter with their entire bodies in the freezing air. Some of them even keep their leaves all winter – and supporting all of that living tissue in a cold environment can be a big challenge!

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Jake Grossman, a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota, explains how trees prepare for and tolerate cold Minnesota winters.

One of the most obvious ways that many trees prepare for winter is by shedding their leaves. During the spring and summer, green leaves, filled with nutrient-rich chlorophyll, make food through photosynthesis. As the days get shorter and colder, trees will suck up as much of the chlorophyll in their leaves as they can. This is a way of recycling nutrients, which can be used next year. The leaves are left without much green pigment, but with plenty of the anthocyanins and carotenoids that produce red, orange, and yellow colors. This is why leaves change color in the fall. The reds and yellows we see in October aren’t new pigments – they were there all along, hiding behind the green. After trees have taken as much out of their leaves, they let them “senesce,” or die off in a controlled way. This is different, and less damaging for the tree, than the freezing damage that you will observe if you leave your houseplants outside during a hard frost.

Minnesota’s trees are preparing for winter on the inside, too! To stay alive, they need to have a constant flow of water running from their roots to their crowns through the long, thin passages called xylem. These structures are like the veins and arteries of the tree, and they function like drinking straws: a bubble or interruption in flow can cause the whole xylem vessel to stop working. If water in the xylem freezes in the winter, it can create air bubbles (air is pushed out of liquid water when it freezes), which disrupt xylem flow. This is called “cavitation,” and must be avoided. Plants have many mechanisms to do so, including, in some species, the creation of natural antifreeze!

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Young scientists examine leaves and leaf litter under the microscope.

At Market Science, we want you to pay attention to how trees prepare for winter. So we asked visitors to become scientists and use a tool that many of us employ in our own research: “litterbags.” Fallen leaves are often called “litter,” so a litterbag is just a mesh bag filled with senesced leaves. Scientists interested in how quickly leaves decompose can put leaves of a known weight in a litterbag, leave them out in the world, and weigh the leaves after some time has passed. The rate of their decomposition can tell us about the leaves’ chemical composition and the environment where they were decomposing. Our visitors got to do this, too, by making litterbags filled with leaves from oak, pine, eastern red cedar, box elder, and basswood! These newly trained litter scientists will place their bags around their homes and yards and check them periodically to see how decomposition proceeds for their leaves of choice.

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Litterbag supplies: old leaves and empty mesh bags.

Thanks to everyone who came out to learn about the ways that MN trees prepare for winter. Two pieces of news for those who visited us:treefoliage

1. In case you were wondering, maples were the runaway favorite in our poll of favorite fall foliage, beating out birches, aspens, and oaks.

2. If you brought home a litterbag, keep an eye on it as we move through winter and spring. If you take a picture of it decomposing next year and send it to Market Science, you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a tote bag. Get in touch here.