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Posts Tagged → NASA

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Bethany Halford and Lauren Wolf.

MIT’s latest hack—that’s prank to all you landlubbers—might be the coolest yet. Students rigged the windows of a building to play Tetris. [PCWorld]

With all the other stuff we’ve been sending into space, it’s about time someone sent a rubber chicken there. [CNET]

Enormous bunny rabbits with big, pointy teeth once roamed the Earth. Were they looking for shrubbery? [NPR]

Last year, Newscripts wrote about Forbes’ ranking of the 15 wealthiest characters of the fictional universe. But we had a bone to pick with its valuation of Smaug the dragon. Forbes now reconsiders the err of its not-nerdy-enough ways. [Forbes]

Why every crematorium needs a metal detector. [Guardian]

Seriously, what is up with kids these days? Teenagers are now drinking hand sanitizer for its alcohol content. [LA Times]

From the Portlandia files: A retirement home for chickens. [NY Times]

Moles beat archaeologists to buried British treasure. [Guardian]

Top Five Science Communication Tips From NASA’s FameLab

Horner (at right) speaks with astrobiologists at the FameLab workshop. (Drahl/C&EN)

Horner (at right) speaks with astrobiologists at the FameLab workshop. (Drahl/C&EN)

Still prepping your video audition for that PBS chemistry show hosting gig? Then you might want to glean some tips from an ongoing NASA competition. It’s the NASA Astrobiology FameLab, and it’s essentially a search for the next Carl Sagan.

FameLab, founded in the U.K. in 2005, is all about the power of words to get the public and stakeholders excited about science. No slides, no graphs allowed in your short presentation.

That can be daunting for most scientists, especially the early-career folks FameLab seeks. So FameLab’s organizers include a mentoring and training component in the competition. For Friday’s preliminary FameLab round at National Geographic in D.C., that mentor was Beth Horner, an award-winning professional storyteller. Last Friday afternoon at NASA headquarters, Horner put 25 young astrobiologists through their storytelling paces. I journeyed to NASA to bring you the top five tips for science communication from her workshop. Here they are:

5) “Never do anything off the cuff. Always plan.”
It’s easy to think that you’ll be able to come up with a way to explain your work on the fly, but you’re less likely to forget a part of your message if you structure things in advance, Horner says. She showed workshop attendees how to storyboard and led several exercises in which she asked the scientists to write down three lines about something–themselves, a mentor in their field, or key aspects of their research. “That three-line thing is the start of a structure,” she said. Questions or issues might come up during your talk that may force you to improvise somewhat, she added, but you should let your structure be a guide so you don’t veer off course.

4) “It’s not about you. It’s about this information you’re trying to get across.”
Horner mentioned this mantra as a way of calming nerves onstage or on camera.

Early-career astrobiologists listen to Horner at the FameLab workshop. (Drahl/C&EN)

Early-career astrobiologists listen to Horner at the FameLab workshop. (Drahl/C&EN)

3) “Always try out your material on someone else.”
Horner always runs story ideas and analogies by colleagues to see what they think. “I ask them, ‘Do you care about this?’,” she says. “You get in your own head sometimes and it’s hard to get out,” but an outside perspective can give you clues about what might resonate with a listener and what won’t, she says.

2) “Tell a story.”
Every culture on Earth has a storytelling tradition, Horner says. “That means something,” she adds. Stories were a way for people to pass down lessons and traditions, and there’s something about their structure that sticks with you. It isn’t easy to structure science like a story, but the approach is likely to pay off, she says.
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Smelling The Moon

Press me! Press me!- the button's siren song. Drahl/C&EN

Many a space-obsessed kid has dreamed of rocketing off to the moon, seeing Earth from the moon, perhaps even touching the lunar surface. But smelling the moon? That’s less likely to be on the to-do list. Still, the folks who designed the American Museum of Natural History’s “Beyond Planet Earth” exhibit are betting that moon fans will at least be curious.

The exhibit hall is dimly lit, perhaps for dramatic effect. A walk through it leads to a simple slab display labeled “Smell the Moon,” placed amid a Soviet space helmet and a Sputnik replica. A button on the display glows temptingly as a recording of John F. Kennedy’s historic moon speech crackles in the background. “Push and sniff to smell the Moon,” the button beckons. They should’ve made it red.

After giving in to temptation and pressing the button, I was rewarded with a puff of “moon air.” Apollo astronauts who tracked moondust inside their cabins have said the stuff smells like gunpowder. Never having handled a firearm, I can’t confirm this. But as Gizmodo’s reporter noted, the experience left a distinctly metallic taste in my mouth.

According to this NASA article on moon aroma, gunpowder and moondust are chemically quite distinct. Today’s gunpowder is made from small organic molecules– nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin. But the moon’s surface is made of compounds all sharing the common thread of silicon, including silicon dioxide and silicate minerals like olivine and pyroxene. As for why the common scent, that’s still something for researchers to figure out.