My family was traveling home from the beach — salty, sandy, tired. Just one hour from home, my dad pulled the station wagon off the highway under a bright orange sign: a Howard Johnson’s motel. He went into the motel lobby and talked to the manager at the desk. Moments later, he ushered all of us into the lobby.

Inside, the manager and a few guests were clustered around a small television, and we joined them. On the television screen, we saw a big room filled with men watching all kinds of monitors and gauges. They seemed excited. Everyone in the motel lobby seemed excited, too.

The television picture changed, and everyone in the motel lobby seemed to hold their breath. A pale image filled the black and white screen: a man in a big white suit and helmet, climbing awkwardly down a ladder onto a barren white landscape. He took the last step off the ladder.

Neil Armstrong descends the ladder toward the Moon's surface.

Neil Armstrong

“That’s one small step for [a] man … one giant leap for mankind,” Neil Armstrong said as he became the first human to walk on the Moon. Everyone in the motel lobby cheered and applauded. Around the world, more than 600 million people watched that step with us.

It’s been 42 years since I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969 at 10:56 p.m. I didn’t understand much of what I saw then, but I knew one thing: This was something important, and my dad wanted to be sure I saw it.

Just a few years ago, I had the rare opportunity to spend some time with Charlie Duke, who had been one of the excited men in the control room on the television screen. Gen. Duke served as CAPCOM for Apollo 11 and was the first person to speak to Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin after they landed the lunar module on the Moon. He became a Moon walker himself in 1972, and he tells great stories about his adventures as an astronaut.

Gen. Duke spoke at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center during the premiere of our “Destination: Space” planetarium show. I served as a guide during his visit to Chapel Hill, driving him from and to the airport and to media interviews. It’s probably one of my favorite Morehead memories. First, because it’s totally cool to have someone who has walked on the Moon sitting in my car, and second, because I know how much my dad would have enjoyed riding with us and listening to the conversation.

This is what I learned from my dad: When a parent is excited about science, his or her children are going to be excited about science, too. That interest, that passion, that enthusiasm — it’s contagious. I see examples every day at Morehead. Children, parents and grandparents are learning about science together, and they’re excited about their discoveries.

My interest in space exploration began in a Howard Johnson’s motel lobby in Jacksonville, N.C., 42 years ago. When and where did your parents inspire you to learn more about science?

Thanks, Dad.

Harry Potter would have needed magic to pass his astronomy exam in book 5.

J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, must be a bit of an astronomy buff. She named a number of her characters after stars or constellations, such as Bellatrix, Draco, Regulus, and Sirius. And in her book about Harry’s fifth school year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Rowling even gave Harry an astronomy exam.

What an exam, though! Harry appeared to have an impossible task that night—to note the location of the constellation Orion in the June sky.

Rowling had Harry successfully complete Orion on his star chart, but Orion wasn’t visible in the night sky from anywhere on the planet that month. In June, when viewed from Earth, the stars of Orion lie roughly in the same line of sight as the Sun. So Orion is above the horizon only in the daytime.

To see Orion in the middle of the night in June, Harry must have used some serious magic, possibly whipping the Earth to another place in its orbit around the Sun. Let’s hope he received extra credit.

This week, we’ll use Morehead magic to re-create the night sky on the planetarium dome for two programs about what you can see this summer:

Both programs are aimed at Muggles (non-magic people, in Harry Potter’s world) who want to learn to identify what’s overhead on North Carolina summer nights. Please register online in advance.

During the Summer Skies programs, we'll see Orion's enemy, Scorpius (another Harry Potter character, known to fans who have read to the very end of the series).

Bateman, biomedical engineer

A few Morehead folks had the chance to go down to watch the last shuttle launch and meet up with Dr. Ted Bateman, a biomedical engineer. He has a research project aboard STS-135 and is going to talk about it on Tuesday, July 12, at 6 p.m. at the Back Bar in downtown Chapel Hill.

If you’re at all interested in how space affects astronauts and how studying that might benefit us here on Earth, then this is the cafe for you.

Let’s get to know Ted:

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado.

What did you want to be when you were a kid? I suppose I was being “trained” to be a scientist.  I won the science fair in sixth grade with a study feeding mice different diets and running them through a maze to see how it affected learning.

How did you get interested in science? My mom was a high school science teacher, and she always brought the lab projects home. I first got interested in NASA when I spent a summer at Kennedy Space Center doing space life sciences experiments while I was an undergrad.

In one sentence, describe your job: I run a lab where we research the effects of ionizing radiation on the skeletal system, trying to better understand what space radiation does to astronauts and how radiation therapy affects cancer patients. [My team's] Space Shuttle work with microgravity is a “hobby” that I have been fortunate to work with for more than 15 years.

What’s a special talent/trick/skill/hobby you have that you’re colleagues don’t know about? I used to be really, really good at brewing beer. I need to pick that up again.

If someone wrote you a blank check to explore any aspect of your field’s research, what would you want to do and why? I would accelerate our clinical trials studying radiation therapy-induced osteoporosis. Women with gynecological tumors have a greater risk for hip fractures, and we can prevent this with existing treatments- we just need to prove the drugs work.

Or- thinking entirely NASA…

Build the habitats to fly mice on the replacement vehicles for the Space Shuttle. We have the opportunity to get mice up to Space Station for long-term experiments, but the animal habitats are not being built.

Great stuff, Ted. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions while prepping for the big launch.

Please join us this Tuesday at the Back Bar! Special thanks to Sigma Xi for their continued support of the Carolina Science Cafe program.

Jonathan

Jonathan Frederick is the director of the North Carolina Science Festival. He wonders what the astronaut mice are thinking about right now.

The Beehive Cluster [Atlas Image courtesy of 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF

Please “catch the buzz” and join us this Saturday, June 25, when Morehead hosts a Family Science Day with a theme of “Native Pollinators.”

We will have lots of free activities!  Play Pollination Jeopardy, dance like a bee, craft a pollinator or flower, listen to a story, examine a flower with a ‘Scope on a Rope, do a scavenger hunt in Coker Arboretum, see “Science 360: Flower Power,” and have your face painted with a flower or pollinator.

Also, with paid admission to a regular planetarium program this Saturday (Morehead members free), you get a bonus: the award-winning shortJeepers Creepers” and a pollination-related tour of the night sky.

Family Science Day happens rain or shine.  Events are inside and outside the Morehead Planetarium building from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Amy Sayle will tell the Cherokee Legend of the Milky Way (a story about a wind-pollinated food) during Family Science Day.

July's Science Cafe Speaker

Meet Myron Cohen, M.D., our special guest for July’s Carolina Science Cafe. He’s a busy man, so we’re grateful he took a few minutes out of his day to answer our questions.

Where did you grow up? Chicago

What did you want to be when you were a kid? A journalist

How did you get interested in science? After serving as editor of the high school paper, I started at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana wanting to study journalism.  My first year of college, a very good friend became ill and later died.  I spent a lot of time with him at the hospital, and I guess that’s how I first became interested in medicine and decided to study pre-med.  When I took organic chemistry, not only did I absolutely love it, but I was really, really good at it, and that helped me realize that I was on the right path.

In one sentence, describe your job: I’m a catalyst for synergy among biomedical faculty at UNC.

What’s a special talent/trick/skill/hobby you have that you’re colleagues don’t know about? Well, let’s see.  I can’t sing.  I can’t dance.  I can’t type.  I’m a pretty good skier.

If someone wrote you a blank check to explore any aspect of your field’s research, what would you want to do and why? Redouble our efforts to cure HIV disease.  We’re pretty far along as it is.

Thanks, Dr. Cohen. That’s good stuff. You can read more about Dr. Cohen’s efforts here.

Please join us on Thursday, July 7, at 6 p.m. (NOTE THE NEW TIME!) for this special science cafe:

The Beginning (and End?) of the AIDS Pandemic: A 30-Year Journey

Back Bar at Top of the Hill

Downtown Chapel Hill

Sponsored by Sigma XI

Jonathan Frederick is the director of the North Carolina Science Festival. He likes mango popsicles.

Looks safe, but is it?

You’re invited to this free program: Swimming & Your Genes, starring Dr. David DeMarini, genetic toxicologist with the EPA. As summer approaches, we’re going to be discussing David’s research into swimming pools and drinking water.

In preparation, David was kind enough to share a little bit about himself.

Where did you grow up? Peoria, Illinois (yes, I played in Peoria). My father, Santa, ran a bar (I grew up in a tavern), and he was a first-generation Italian immigrant with only an 8th grade education.  My mom was a nurse (Irish from Iowa); it was a fun mix of cultures–we ate spaghetti with potatoes.  There are 4 boys, and 3 of us went into the health sciences (2 Ph.D. geneticists and 1 M.D. pulmonologist).

What did you want to be when you were a kid? A performer–anything would have been fine–singer, dancer, actor, musician (I’ve co-founded 2 theater companies, acted in a bunch of plays, and play piano–second-rate pop/B-way, and jazz).  My science career ended up satisfying my urge/need to perform–with lots of world-wide invitations to speak and lecture–combining my love of science and my desire to entertain.

How did you get interested in science? I always was curious about how the world worked, and science seemed to provide the most satisfying explanations to me; and I was pretty good at science in school. However, the “magic moment” came during my last semester of my senior year of college when I took genetics (from the finest teacher of my life), and I was hooked–I found my muse and my bliss–environmental mutagenesis, which has become a nearly 40-year love affair.  (I ended up doing my M.S. and Ph.D. under that remarkable genetics teacher–Herman Brockman at Illinois State University.)

In one sentence, describe your job: I examine the air, water, soil, food, urine from people, etc. for mutagenic activity and try to determine the types of mutations such substances induce and how those mutations might cause human disease such as cancer.

What’s a special talent/trick/skill/hobby you have that your colleagues don’t know about? I learned to make “cappelletti in brodo” as a kid from my Italian grandmother (la mia nona).  It is a pasta stuffed with chicken, beef, cheese, and lemon zest that is cooked in a beef/chicken broth–peculiar to the region east of Firenze (Florence) where my family is from.  I make a huge batch every winter that lasts for 6 months (thank heavens for freezers), but I have never shared this delicacy with either friends or colleagues–it’s only for “la famiglia.”

If someone wrote you a blank check to explore any aspect of your field’s research, what would you want to do and why? I would incorporate mutagenesis testing of the air and water in this country to go along with the chemical monitoring of air and water that currently occurs in order for us to know how mutagenic and thus, potentially carcinogenic, our air and water really are–based on actual toxicology measurements.

Great answers, David. We’ll see you on Thursday. Please bring some “cappelletti in brodo.”

We hope to see all of you at the Back Bar in downtown Chapel Hill by 7pm. Remember to get there early for some delicious appetizers sponsored by Sigma Xi.

Thanks, Jonathan

Jonathan Frederick is director of the North Carolina Science Festival. He's ready for someone to invent teleportation.

Dr. David DeMarini, one of our cafe regulars (and fantastic question-asker of other scientists), is a genetic toxicologist with the EPA. On Thursday, June 2, he will be our featured presenter. Please join us for:

June's Carolina Science Cafe presenter

Chlorinated Chromosomes:  Swimming and Your Genes

You know your hair or skin can be affected by a dip in the pool–and you usually smell like chlorine after that refreshing swim.  But have you ever wondered what happens to your genes while you’re paddling around in the swimming pool?  Want to know what’s really in that water, and what chlorine may be doing to your chromosomes?  Maybe not, but if you’d like to find out, check out the Science Cafe at the the Back Bar at Top the Hill in downtown Chapel Hill at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 2, 2011.

Dr. David DeMarini, a genetic toxicologist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in RTP, and an AdjunctProfessor in the Dept. of Environmental Science & Engineering at UNC, will discuss the latest studies he and his colleagues have done on the mutagenicity and carcinogenicity of swimming pool water and drinking water.  Dr. DeMarini has been studying the ability of chlorinated water to induce mutations for 30 years, and he will share this pool of knowledge with you while you drink something other than chlorinated water.  Take the plunge, and join us at the next Science Cafe in Chapel Hill!

Thanks, David, for the puns. Stay tuned for more info about David in our next blog.

Jonathan

Jonathan Frederick is Morehead's science program manager. He has recently pledged to run at least 15 miles per week and his muscles hurt thinking about it.

to attend this month’s Carolina Science Cafe. But you can chat with one!

The Star of May's Carolina Science Cafe

On Thursday, May 12, at 7 p.m., Dr. Matt Ewend, head of neurosurgery at UNC, will be at the Back Bar in Downtown Chapel Hill, talking about his world. A world that includes awake surgeries, removing tumors, using the CyberKnife, and more. We’re really looking forward to this one!

As usual, our friends at Sigma Xi will be sponsoring some appetizers and special thanks to Dr. Charles Weiss for making this event possible.

To get to know Matt a little more, check out his answers to our questions:

Where did you grow up? Saginaw Michigan, son of an insurance agent and an advertising person.  No medical folks in the family

What did you want to be when you were a kid? My grandfather was a lawyer, and that’s what I wanted to do.  I thought I could be a trial attorney.   I also thought I would like to be a sports announcer.

How did you get interested in science? I got interested in science and medicine during high school, but no real epiphany moment. I was a math major in college and came at science through the math physics pathway.    I like the clean answers that math and physics often provided better than the fuzzy answers of some other sciences.

In one sentence, describe your job: Everyday I meet people facing difficult illnesses involving the brain; my job is to help them through these times compassionately.

What’s a special talent/trick/skill/hobby that you have that your colleagues don’t know about? I got my privates pilot’s license a year ago and I am working on my instrument rating.  As a kid, I was almost as fast as Holden Thorp with Rubik’s cube.

If someone wrote you a blank check to explore any aspect of your field’s research, what would you want to do and why? I started out in medicine with an interest in cancer and this has never changed.  Given our mythical blank check, I would build a team to look at brain tumors on an individual level (think personalized medicine) to find newer targeted treatments.

Thanks, Matt, for taking the time to answer our questions.

We hope to see everyone on Thursday, 5/12, 7 p.m. at the Back Bar!

Cheers,

Jonathan


Jonathan Frederick is the director of the North Carolina Science Festival. He is currently reading East of Eden.

Come explore human health and wellness at Morehead’s Family Science Day program this Saturday (April 2, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.).

How do the foods you eat affect your health? Family Science Day shares some ideas.

You can taste test healthy snacks. Take a mini-class in yoga or tai chi with your kids. Test your heart rate before and after competing in a mini-Olympics event. Learn how thoughts can affect health.

There’ll be guest speakers, exhibits, hands-on activities, story time and even a Science LIVE! Human Body Test. You can meet and talk with scientists who are researching ways to keep us all healthy through every stage of life.

All of the Family Science Day activities are free, and everything is planned so that there’s something for almost every age level — even yours! See you Saturday.

My officemate is eating an apple right now.

11 Mar 2011
0

We made a (very) short video with some of the folks that showed up at the most recent alumni event at Morehead. Check it out:

Shot and edited by one of our fantastic student interns, Margaret Cheatham Williams.

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.