About Claire

As Director of Wiess Energy Hall Programming, Claire coordinates energy education activities for schools, universities and business; promotes energy-related events, and generally works on spreading the word about the Wiess Energy Hall, the premiere energy resource worldwide. Check out her posts for all things energy – from the “Big Bang” to sustainability.

The Wiess Energy Hall has a new addition!!

Tapestry of Time and Terrain is a map in our geology section which illustrates the topography and geology of the United States. Included is a colorful geologic time scale.

Topography, shown in digital shaded relief on the map, tells scientists about natural hazards, events in the Earth’s history and natural resources, including land, water, hydrocarbons, and minerals.

Color on the map illustrates geologic time.

USGS

The map shows rocks of the same age in the same color. Rocks contain information that helps geologists understand the Earth and its natural history. The colors reveal the geologic story of continental collision and break-up, mountain-building, river erosion and deposition, ice-cap glaciation, volcanism, and other events and processes that have shaped the region over the last 2.6 billion years. This information helps petroleum geologists determine where and why fossil fuels can be found in locations throughout the lower 48 states.

The online map is a great interactive teaching tool which can be used to enhance learning of earth science. In the Rock of Ages section of the site, details of each geologic age reveal the dramatic story of the continuous shaping of the United States. There is even a physiographic puzzle which can help children become interested in geology at a very young age.

Visit the Wiess Energy Hall at HMNS to see our colorful new addition!

 

Scientists Play an Inspirational Role

President-elect Barack Obama recently announced his nomination of Steven Chu  as the next Secretary of Energy.

Chu said that his interest in science goes back to elementary school, a crucial time in developing the scientists this nation, and the world, need in order to keep up with the changes that our lifestyle demands create.

Molecule display
Creative Commons License photo credit: net_efekt

Chu shared a Nobel prize in physics for developing a method to trap atoms with laser light. As a scientist he can bring to the office an understanding of energy and a commitment to alternative energy concepts beyond politics and economics.



The Wiess Energy Hall plays an inspirational role in the formation of young scientists in the Houston area. The Wiess Energy Hall also catalyses interactions between young scientists and existing scientists from local research organizations.

 Hydrogen Fuel Cell

One great example is the work of Dr. Peter Strasser, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Houston.  Dr Strasser’s research on clean hydrogen fuel cell technology was recently chosen as the highlight for 2008 in the “Energy for Sustainability Engineering” section  for a grant received by the National Science Foundation.

His research is aimed at developing a new way to get fuel hydrogen out of the air.  Currently, hydrogen fuel cell technology is expensive.  This new reaction makes it more cost effective.  By putting non-noble transition metals with a platinum catalyst, the new oxygen reducing reaction is more efficient. 

Part of Dr. Strasser’s grant included a learning component where he brought middle school students to the Wiess Energy Hall in order to help them learn more about sustainable energy technologies.

Pictured below are Lisa White, Rebecca Scheers, April Bievenour, Dr. Strasser, and Neil Manchon. These students were attending West Briar Middle School at the time. Just as Steven Chu was influenced by other scientists, these students are learning from Dt Strasser that science is fun and exciting.

Energy Hogs and Lava Lamps: An Energy Education Day

Where can you bring your children to have fun learning about energy? The Houston Museum of Natural Science Wiess Energy Hall of course!!

On September 24, Shell had an Energy Education Day here, where children of all ages learned about science with fun activities, games, talks with people in the industry, tours of the Wiess Energy Hall  and a visit from the Energy Hog.

Shell had a conference of new employees at a nearby hotel, so they came a day early to volunteer at HMNS. If you missed all the fun, Shell has a great Web site called Energize Your Future where teachers, parents and students can learn all about energy and do fun activities.

Some of our favorite activities are described below:

Bouncing Glue Balls: (these are so much fun to squish in your hands!)

1. Mix a teaspoon or so of Borax with about 2 cups of water in a container large enough to get your hand down into.

2. Put a drop of food coloring on a plastic spoon.

3. Add white school glue on the spoon until it is full, mix with toothpick until color is distributed.

4. Dip the spoon of glue into the Borax water and stir lightly so the glue does not come off the spoon. The Borax water will react with the outside of the glue and start the chemical reaction.

5. Next, use your hands to pull the glue ball off of the spoon.

6. Dip the glue ball and your hand into the Borax water.

7. Squeeze the glue ball and knead it to expose the interior of the glue ball.

8. Alternate between the Borax water and kneading the glue ball until the ball has started to harden.

9. Roll the glue into a ball. It is ready for bouncing!

A great explanation of the scientific process involved can be found here.

How to Make a Bubbling Lava Lamp

Fill tube 3/4 full with oil (we used cheap vegetable oil).

Add a capful of water to the tube. Add 10 drops of food coloring. Divide an Alka-Seltzer tablet into 4 pieces. Drop one piece into the oil & water mixture – watch what happens. When the bubbling stops, screw the soda bottle cap on and seal with duct tape. Be sure the bubbling totally stops. This will take a few minutes and the children love watching the fizz. Turn the test tube slowly back and forth to see your lava lamp flow.

What is happening in the lava lamp?

Oil and water molecules are so attracted to themselves that they do not mix together, even though they will mix with other substances. Oil has a lower density than water so it floats on top. The food coloring only mixes with the water and goes through the oil to reach the water. The alka-seltzer reacts with the colored water to make bubbles of carbon dioxide gas. These bubbles attach themselves to the blobs of food colored water and causes them to float to the surface. When the bubbles pop and the carbon dioxide escapes, the blobs sink back to the bottom.

The Energy Hog teaches about conserving energy and not hogging it. He was a big hit with most of the children – some were a little skeptical!

The Energy Hog Web site has some interactive activities, games and lessons to help children learn how to conserve energy. The Shell volunteers had a great time learning from the HMNS docents about each of the halls so they could teach the children about what they see in the Museum.

Keep you eye out on the HMNS Web site for future Energy Education Days at HMNS or contact me at cscoggin@hmns.org to be put on our Energy contact list.

Home Sweet Oil Platform

Beyond Petroleum
Creative Commons License photo credit: jurvetson

We all breathed a sign of relief this weekend as Gustav spared the Houston area.  We hope that the hurricanes backed up for landing on our continent follow his example and fizzle out before causing as much harm as we have seen in the past century.  Katrina and Rita caused untold damage from which we are still struggling to recover.

The Gulf of Mexico normally produces about 1.5 million barrels a day of U.S. crude: 2% of global oil production and about a quarter of our domestic output. Many damaged platforms and oil rigs in the Gulf were sunk or put adrift after Katrina and Rita.  

This appears alarming at first,  and of course, oli platform cost us millions of dollars to replace – to say nothing of the production lost.  But the story is not all dark.  Our guest blogger,  Lindsey Goodier from the Oil and Gas Investor tells us more…

I learned something new yesterday – did you know that oil platforms are home to thousands of underwater creatures?

reef fish & soft coral
Creative Commons License photo credit: jon hanson

The protection provided by the platforms attracts a variety of fish and the structures become home to corals, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. Over the past 20 years, over 200 platforms that are no longer used have attracted many sea creatures. The conglomeration of sea creatures at these oil platforms has served as a learning center for marine life observation.

Especially in the Gulf of Mexico, the habitat the platforms create for fish is of value to fishermen. Since the GOM is a flat plain, comprised of mud, clay and sand with very little natural rock bottom and reef habitat, the platforms are one of the few places that habitats can form. Without oil platforms, fish and other marine life would be far more dispersed, making commercial fishing, recreational fishing and diving more difficult.

As observed and documented by the Minerals Management Service’s (MMS) diving scientists, invertebrates and plants attach to petroleum platforms within weeks of their placement in the marine environment. Within a year, the platform can be completely covered with plants and sessile invertebrates, attracting mobile invertebrates and fish species, and forming a highly complex food chain.

Now, I won’t be so naive as to ignore the fact that oil spills do occur. Yes, living under an oil platform can be a risky way of life. But the benefits of community living for these creatures seems to be greater than the risk of an actual spill. And the enjoyment that they bring to humans who can observe communities of marine life is the greatest benefit of all.

Lindsay Goodier is the Online Editor for OilandGasInvestor.com; check out her blog, Oil Rules.

Feeling energized?
Read about the Minerals Managment Service’s announcement about Sperm Whales.
See what Lindsay Goodier had to say about our Wiess Energy Hall.
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