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Below The Surface

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Life Saving Caterpillar Guts

Many unknowns in the natural world have potential implications for human endeavors. If stewardship for sake of protecting what already exists, what we owe to our children, is not obvious in itself to the imprudent consumer, consider the attached article.  Societies most learned engineers, chemists, physicists and others sometimes revert to nature’s incredible offerings to find solutions to the seemingly insurmountable. The movement of the gut of a caterpillar becomes the model for the design of a new robot that might one day find trapped miners or earthquake survivors below the rubble of fallen buildings.  What if the Dwarf Wedgemussel, the Indiana Bat or Jesup’s Milk-vetch, all endangered species in Vermont, had something to offer fuure generations but they became extinct? Stewardship is not only about preserving species to maintain an ecological balance; it is about preserving the diversity of what we do not yet fully understand. Black bears’ metabolism during hibernation has offered insights into human kidney function.  Horseshoe crabs have benefited human medical care.  Stewardship to conserve what exists is more than a warm, fuzzy feeling for some longhaired, organic, tree-hugger. Stewardship is conservation of design and function not yet fully known and perhaps, one day, much needed.

www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/61345/title/Gut_first

Friday, August 6, 2010

What's Green About Chemistry?

This week our blog was done by Michelle Borsavage, an ECHO "Green Team" Intern! Read on to learn what it is she does, and what she has learned while working at ECHO!

This is the beginning of my third month as a summer intern at ECHO. My internship was organized under a grant through the University of Vermont (UVM) provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The aim of this grant is providing adult patrons with opportunities for education and awareness about current trends in the chemical industry.My colleague Eliza and I are appointed members of the “Green Team”, a small team of ECHO and UVM staff whose goal is to educate our visitors about the basics of green chemistry and how the field of chemistry affects our daily lives. A main focus of my time at ECHO has been developing and staffing an exhibit on biodegradable plastics. Biodegradable plastics are made specifically to mimic polymers (long chains of repeating sub-units, i.e. DNA strands and silk) that are naturally occurring. Starches and other organic materials are incorporated into the strands of these polymers so they will biodegrade after disposal. Degradation occurs as bacteria and other microorganisms seek the starch in the polymer chain as food.

On an ordinary day at ECHO, I sit at my exhibit and talk to waves of people including school-aged campers, families and meandering adults. I try to adapt my speech and props based on my audience however best I can so my two underlying messages are clear to all: 1. chemistry is not scary, but actually really awesome; and 2. biodegradable plastics can be an environmentally friendly alternative for traditional plastic.

One particular day at the exhibit, I was interacting with a group of young girls, approximately eleven years old. They were engaged and asked really analytical questions throughout my presentation. Fifteen minutes later, one of the girls ran back towards me. She was dragging her little brother and a frantic mother behind her. This girl gave me a smile and said "Mom check out these biodegradable polymers!" She essentially repeated my entire script and even used my props to her family. I was stunned. I couldn't believe that she retained the information but was even more amazed that she could explain the material to her mother and brother. The two kids then ran away from the workbench hand in hand and the mother stayed behind. She thanked me and talked with me further about the chemical industry. I grasped something valuable from that little girl: learning occurs as part of an active process involving the participation of both the "teacher" and the "learner". I then edited my exhibit script from being lecture-based to a more conversational style. This allows for guests to have a role in their own learning.

As I continue to reflect on my experiences thus far this summer, I am overcome with feelings of accomplishment and pride. I came into this internship with a limited background in public speaking and performing. I will end this summer with the ability to interact with diverse audiences and with a new found confidence. Not only have I learned a lot from this internship, but I have witnessed growth in guests of the ECHO floor.

-Michelle Borsavage

Until Next Week!...

Monday, August 2, 2010

Why Some Frogs Cruise and Some Frogs Crash

Have you ever watched frogs hop away from you; I mean really watched them. Some frogs land ready to keep moving. Other frogs land like me when I first started rollerblading: continued locomotion was not a priority. I always thought it was just the specific frog I was observing was perhaps, well, not the sharpest stick in the leaf litter. But there may be more to it than that! See what you think: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/61385/title/Frogs_leapt__before_they_landed

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Lake Sturgeon Veterinary Care

On July 3, ECHO Animal Care staff noticed one of the larger Lake Sturgeon on display appeared to be disoriented and occasionally unable to right itself. The fish was pulled off exhibit and relocated to an isolation tank. The decision to pull and treat a fish is never a quick one. The stress of handling, a new unfamiliar environment, and water chemistry changes can sometimes exacerbate a medical condition. In this case, with the behaviors we were seeing, we felt we had no choice.

When we move fish at ECHO, we minimize the stress of handling by using nets, not to net the fish, but to herd them into containers, in this case a horse trough. The fish are kept in water at all times to reduce stress and prevent skin, scale, gill, eye or fin injuries that often occur when fish are netted or otherwise handled and removed from the water.

The isolation tank's location, adjacent to the Lake Sturgeon exhibit filtration system, allowed us to transfer exhibit water to the isolation tank to avoid stressful water chemistry changes.

The treatment, recommended by Tennessee Aquarium Veterinary staff, included a salt bath and a two-week regimen of antibiotics, and had been used in the past to successfully treat another Lake Sturgeon at ECHO.


The salt bath was administered as the Lake Sturgeon was transferred to isolation. The first antibiotic dose was administered via intramuscular injection into the long muscle that runs on either side of the backbone. Subsequent antibiotics were administered orally, which was made possible by previous efforts to train the Lake Sturgeon to hand feeding.

After five doses of antibiotics, when the Lake Sturgeon appeared to be behaving normally, it was returned to the Lake Champlain display. While it appears to be doing well, we will continue to keep a close eye on it. This particular Lake Sturgeon, known affectionately to us as "Moe", is one of ECHO's original animal ambassadors.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not thank the many ECHO volunteers, interns and staff for their much-appreciated assistance in this transfer. Through their assistance, we were able to quickly, safely and without stressing the fish, move a horse trough containing a four-foot Lake Sturgeon and approximately one hundred fifty to two hundred pounds of water.