Blog Archives

Fighting a Contagious Cancer (and the Guardian Facebook App)

Today’s Guardian has a profile of Elizabeth Murchison on the Grrl Scientist blog. Murchison’s TED Talk explains the work of her team trying to prevent the extinction of Tasmanian Devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) due to a contagious facial cancer, spread by biting.

Scary stuff, with some – very – graphic images.

She mentions the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is responsible for cervical cancer. Their first thought was that the source of this cancer was similar – viral, but that is not the case. In fact, the cells are implanted into other devils through biting – where they colonise and run rampage.



Also this week, the Guardian released their Facebook app. You can ‘like’ it into your feeds, as well as the different streams (Science, environment, data, education and more).

With all the apps and fan pages out there, you too could turn your facebook into a feed reader.

Earth Day 2011: International Year of Forests

The theme for our Earth Day celebrations this year is “International Year of the Forests.” To celebrate, we’re having a day of student-led activities and workshops, a vegetarian international lunch and an afternoon assembly on the 29th April.

This video was produced by the Good Planet Foundation and is the official film of the International Year of Forests. Most of the HPD classes have seen it, and here it is if you want to watch again:


– why not watch the movie yourself in short bursts and spend a few minutes looking up the concepts mentioned in the narration?

– Use Embed Plus to annotate the video with keywords and links to internet resources on the concepts discussed.

Ever the issues in Indonesia, forestry management, biodiversity protection and sustainability should be on our minds all year round, not just on one day. How can we take real action in the school? At the very least we should reduce our reliance on an unsustainable source of paper. Think before you print!

Let’s hope the activities we take part in lead to continued and mindful actions!

Welcome to 2011: International Year of Forests and Chemistry!

Happy New Year Scientists!

With the close of 2010, the UN’s International Year for Biodiversity and Rapprochement of Cultures, we welcome in 2011, International Year of Forests (UN) and Chemistry (UNESCO).

So was the International Year of Biodiversity a success?

Shark finning - still a problem in Indonesia. Click for a gallery of biodiversity wins and fails in 2010.

The official UN page still has lots of resources for biodiversity, including videos and reports. There is a also a good resource of articles and information from the International Institute for Environment and Development. One of the key conservation events last year was COP-10 in Nagoya – the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. There are some good articles on the build-up and outcomes of COP-10 available at, as well as a summary at Wikipedia. The Guardian’s George Monbiot reviews the conference here, and they also have their own environmental review of 2010.

Eco-wins: new marine parks, recovering waterways, ecosystem pledges in Nagoya, and the hundreds of ground-level conservation and environmental efforts taking place across the globe. Also, 2010-2020 has been declared the decade for biodiversity!

Eco-fails: Deepwater Horizon, we’re still overfishing, forest clearance rampages on and what are we really doing about plastic pollution, water pollution, air pollution, factory farming, habitat destruction and uncontrolled urbanisation?


Celebrate the forests!

UN International Year of Forests

Celebrate the forests!

Although global deforestation appears to be slowing down, it is still continuing at an alarming rate, according to the UN’s 2010 report on global forest resources. So what can we do about it in the International Year of Forests?

Check out some of these educational resources:

Here is CIFOR‘s (Centre for International Forestry Research) video for 2011:



UNESCO International Year of Chemistry

The International Year of Chemistry 2011 aims to celebrate the achievements of Chemistry and its contrbutions to the well-being of mankind. Head on over to, the official page, for a growing wealth of resources and ideas.

Choice Chemistry resources:


And finally…

Don’t forget that from August 2010 to August 2011 is also the International Year for Youth. Phew – so much to think about and take action on in 2011!


Have a great and productive 2011, and remember that everything we do in class can be applied to life beyond school and to the global issues we face – and you will have to deal with.

I’ll be trying to postaweek2011 through the year. Why don’t you have a go too?


Conservation Inspiration

The world doesn’t have to be in the mess it is in.

This week, the HL students will be working on G4 (Conservation of Biodversity) and G5 (Population Ecology). The videos below link to these topics, but the issues are of such current global importance right now, I encourage all students to watch them.

We all know that we need to make changes and take action, but the seeming hopelessness of the situation is a barrier to many.What possible difference could some individuals make?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

In this TED Talk, John Kasaona describes how activation of some the biggest stakeholders on the land in Namibia – the poachers – turned a huge problem into an effective in-situ conservation effort that acts as a role model for active management to the rest of the world. Inspiring and true, this is well worth 18minutes of your time:

In this TED Talk, Willie Smits tells the inspiring story of their project to revive some devastated Borneo rainforest made great use of local people in active management and has provided a habitat for the orang-utans to return. You can also read about it here.

Dan Barber: How I Fell In Love With A Fish (sustainable fisheries). Watching this, think about the following questions:

  • In what ways is this an example of active management in conservation?
  • What are the measures of ecological health being used here?

And if you’re up for some doom and gloom, swim on over to the population ecology page, where there are clips about how we wrecked the oceans, including some clips from the EndOftheLine. Head on over to their official webpage (with video excerpts). They have a very useful what-you-can-eat widget on their website, which can also be used in pdf format.


BIS students – the TED talks are saved on the network, so you can put them on your iPods or laptops and watch them when you’re stuck in traffic on the way home.

The Greenhouse Effect

Although just a few short assessment statements, this topic is one we could investigate for weeks. Key to understanding this is thinking about how we evaluate the precautionary principle with regard to anthropogenic environmental impacts:

The theory that an action should be taken when a problem or threat occurs, not after harm has been inflicted; an approach to decision- making in risk management which justifies preventive measures or policies despite scientific uncertainty about whether detrimental effects will occur“. From

(Includes some slides from G3 Human Impacts, related to Ozone Layer)

Essential Biology 5.2 The Greenhouse Effect ——   Click4Biology:The Greenhouse Effect

While working through all of the resources, think about how you distinguish between the following:

  • natural and enhanced greenhouse effect
  • anthropogenic vs natural causes
  • global warming vs climate change vs climate destabilisation

In this TED Global 2010 talk, Lee Hotz describes the work of researchers in the Antarctic, studying the history of our planet’s climate, through drilling ice-cores that go back in thousands of years.

For all the rest of the resources (and stacks of video clips), click on over to the main page for 5.2 Greenhouse Effect.

Ctrl-A Del: Sorting out the flowers

Interesting news today from the Guardian: “Scientists prune list of world’s plants“.  600,000 species of flowering plants have been deleted from the records in an impressive piece of international cooperation.

And no, that’s not because 600,000 have gone extinct (although so many are rapidly disappearing)- it’s because so many were duplicates with different names. By sorting out the list, botanists hope to make it easier for ecologists to keep track of genuinely newly discovered species, as well as more effectively monitor species over time.

This is a nice link to the Classification unit, and highlights the importance of international cooperation in the sciences. It was part of an effort for the Convention of Biological Diversity, which meet this October in Japan. It also links to the Ecology and Conservation option.

Here is a short interview with Dr Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, discussing why all of the member countries have failed to reach their targets, and why it is important to engage all stakeholders in the process of conservation:

G2 Ecosystems and Biomes

Essential Biology: G2 Ecosystems and Biomes


Biomes of the world animation, from McGraw Hill

Terrestrial biomes animation, from Freeman LifeWire


Primary succession on a glacial moraine, from Freeman LifeWire

Forest succession, from Wiley

Forest succession, from Ecoplexity

Collection of succession animations, from Nodvin Environmental Science

Energy Flow

Basic pyramids, from Harcourt Schools


Next lesson, we will will start with some past-paper questions on this topic. Think about these:

  1. Explain why gross production of an ecosystem is always higher than net production (2 marks)
  2. Explain the low biomass and low numbers in higher trophic levels (3 marks)
  3. Outline the changes in gross production of an ecosystem throughout ecological succession (2 marks)
  4. Explain how living organisms affect the abiotic environment through succession (4 marks)
  5. Distinguish between primary and secondary succession (2 marks)


Here’s a short TED Talk from Graham Hill of on why he’s a weekday vegetarian. When you watch it, think about how it related to issues of energy flow and the land needed to produce for a meat-eating diet.

How We Wrecked The Oceans – Jeremy Jackson at TED

In another great (but more than a little worrying) talk from TED 2010, Jeremy Jackson (coral reef ecologist, not star of Baywatch), gives a picture of the real state of the oceans, and the massive damages we as a species have caused.

Dan Barber: How I Fell In Love With A Fish

What’s sustainable about feeding chicken to fish?

How do you make sustainable fisheries development entertaining? Get this guy to tell you about it.

In this talk (from TED 2010), chef Dan Barber talks about how he fell out of love with one type of ecologically questionable farmed fish and was impressed by new sustainable fish farming methods in Spain. Watch the talk, be amazed and then read more about Miguel Medialdea’s projects (“three parts Darwin, one part Crocodile Dundee”).

Oceans: Disney’s Earth Day Super-doc

Following last year’s Earth, Disney are releasing Oceans on Earth Day. Loaded with symbolism and lovely shots, though unlikely to be as informative as the brilliant Blue Planet series, it might just inspire more people to take care of the oceans and be aware of their importance to us. I hope it hits the big screens here in Indonesia!

Here’s an idea Disney – if you’re serious about sending the message, why not give the tickets away to schools for free?

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