Terraforming Mars

Description:  Aside from ethical concerns turning the planet Mars into a habitable planet would be a scientific challenge. The planet is too cold, lacks a useable atmosphere, and the lack of a magnetic field leaves it susceptible to space weather. Increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere could solves two of these problems through the greenhouse effect. This thought-experiment could provide students an opportunity to better understand interactions between Earth systems.

Web Resource:  Terraforming Mars - Wikipedia


The Dark Snow Project

Description:  The Dark Snow project is a crowd-funded citizen science project to quantify changes in the reflectivity of the ice in Greenland. They are attempting to combine climate change with social media to impact research in the area of albedo-temperature feedback. They have funded two campaigns to study the ice using drones and satellite imagery. The work of this group could allow students to study feedback between Earth systems, discuss climate change, or as a jumpstart for a project of their own.

Web Resources:  Dark Snow Project - Wikipedia, The Dark Snow Project


The Great Oxygenation Event

Description:  The Great Oxygenation Event occurred when cyanobacteria living in the oceans started producing oxygen through photosynthesis. As oxygen built up in the atmosphere anaerobic bacteria were killed leading to the Earth's first mass extinction. The change in diversity and the arrival of appreciable atmospheric oxygen ( as evidenced by the red bands in the rocks) can be analyzed to see what happens when a resource that was scarce becomes very abundant.

Web Resource: Great Oxygenation Event - Wikipedia


If We Are What We Eat, Americans Are Corn and Soy

Description:  This CNN story and journal article show how big a role corn plays in the diet of typical Americans. Scientists can do isotope analysis of the carbon to determine the source of carbon. Corn production is heavily subsidized in the US and relies on large amounts of fertilizers and water.

Web Resources:  If we are what we eat, Americans are corn and soy - CNN, Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes in fast food: Signatures of corn and confinement - PNAS

Public Domain, Link

Reconstructing Ancient Diets with Isotopes

Description:  Scientists are able to reconstruct the diet of ancient humans by analyzing the isotopes found in their bones and hair. For example by examining the 12C/13C isotope ratio they can determine if the diet was mainly wheat (a C3 plant) or corn (a C4 plant). They can also place the diet in different trophic levels based on the isotopes of carbon as well as nitrogen and oxygen. This phenomenon could start with the following question: Was the paleo diet truly the paleo diet?

Web Resource: Reconstructing Ancient Diets with Isotopes - Wikipedia

Paleo Diet.jpg

Crown Shyness

Description:  In this phenomenon the crowns of certain trees do not touch. The physiological mechanism and cause of this phenomenon is not clearly understood. Since it appears in several species of trees that are not directly related it may be an example of convergent evolution. Students could speculate on why this occurs and in the upper levels may attempt to determine the mechanism of crown shyness.

Web Resource:  Crown shyness - Wikipedia


Why Do Sunflowers Follow the Sun?

Description:  This is an excellent phenomenon that can be used in many different units. According to researchers only young sunflowers will follow the Sun. These flowers are following a natural circadian rhythm to receive the most light for photosynthesis. However when they mature the flowers will mainly face east. The reason for this is fairly simple, bees like warm flowers, and the flowers facing the east are the warmest.

Web Resources:  The Mystery Of Why Sunflowers Turn To Follow The Sun — Solved - NPR, Helianthus - Wikipedia


Weather Folklore

Description:  Historic weather folklore can be used to introduce the purpose of weather forecasting. Humans tried to find patterns in the weather so they could prepare for severe weather. As the unit progresses the students could come up with lore of their own based on their observations of local weather patterns.

Web Resources:  Weather Folklore - Wikipedia, Weather Wiz Kids Weather Lore



Homemade Thermometer

Description:  Building a homemade thermometer is a great way to start a unit on weather and warming. As temperature warms the alcohol in the bottle it expands causing the level to increase in the straw. Student should measure the relative temperature in different locations. If it's not possible to build the thermometers give your students simple plastic thermometers and let them explore.

Web Resource:  Thermometer - Wikipedia


Lightning Strikes Thrice - Empire State Building

Description: Many people believe that lightning never strikes the same place twice but this video clearly shows that this is not true. A lightning rod consists of three main parts: a lightning rod at the top of a structure, a conducting wire, and a ground rod. This design allows electricity from the lightning strike to pass through directly to the ground without moving through the structure. This protects the structure and the people inside from possible fire and electrocution. This video shows that severe weather occurs in predictable ways and that humans must develop designs that can protect ourselves.

Web Resources:  Lightning Rod - Wikipedia, Next Gen Lightning Protection - Extreme Tech


The Driest Place on Earth

Description:  Extreme climates (like the Atacama desert) can be used as phenomenon in a unit on weather and climate. The specific location of the desert (in a two-sided rain shadow near the Tropic of Capricorn) has created the arid environment. The average rainfall is 1/2 inch per year but many areas have received no rain for several years. Other phenomenon could include the "_____ Place on Earth" where the blank could represent a variety of weather conditions like Coldest, Hottest, Wettest, Windiest, etc.

Web Resources:  Atacama Desert - Wikipedia


Why Does the Wind Blow?

Description:  Even though we experience wind nearly every day most students don't know why the wind blows. Unequal heating of the Earth causes areas of low and high pressure. Wind is simply the movement of air from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure. Students could keep track of the wind speed and wind direction over a long period of time. They could then try to determine the cause of wind in their local environment.

Web Resource:  NOAA - Why Does the Wind Blow?

wind blow.jpg

World Climographs

Description:  Climographs show the average temperature and precipitation in an area over the course of the year. Websites like climatecharts.net can be used to quickly identify patterns of climate around the world. They can also ask causation questions related to the climate differences (e.g. How do mountains and wind patterns affect the climate in an area?, How do large bodies of water affect the climate in an area?

Web Resources:  Climate Charts, Climograph - Wikipedia


By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Vegetable Oil as Fuel

Description:  Vegetable oil can be used as fuel in both diesel cars and heating oil burners. Reclaimed vegetable oil that is used in food service industries could be used to reduce the amount of fossil fuels that are being used by humans. This phenomenon could be used in an energy unit related to either the physical or life sciences.

Web Resources:  Vegetable Oil Fuel - WikipediaStudents Power Bus with Vegetable Oil - NBC


Biosphere 2

Description:  Biosphere 2 was created in the 1990's to model all the elements of Biosphere 1 (The Earth). Plants in the biosphere produced oxygen and food for the inhabitants. The carbon dioxide released during respiration was taken in by the plants cycling the matter with energy from the Sun. In this experiment oxygen levels steadily fell to dangerous levels and oxygen eventually had to be added to the biosphere. This large-scale phenomenon continues to be owned and run by the University of Arizona. The mystery of missing oxygen could be used as a phenomenon in a unit on matter cycling and energy flow. Students can even create biospheres of their own and monitor life over time.

Web Resource:  Biosphere 2 - Wikipedia


Algae Fuel and Food

Description:  Algae food and fuel hope to reduce human dependence on fossil fuels and avert food shortages around the world. Algae fuel works in the same way as fossil fuels but the carbon dioxide released during combustion is carbon taken from the atmosphere in algae photosynthesis. Algae can also be used to create animal feed which currently uses large amounts of soil and water resources. This phenomenon can be use in an energy unit or life science unit related to mass and energy.

Web Resource: Algae Fuel - Wikipedia


The Collapsing Train Car

Description:  The collapsing train car can be used as an anchoring phenomenon on a unit related to the structure and properties of matter. The macroscopic implosion is caused by a decrease in pressure within the train car and air pressure crushing the car. To fully understand this phenomenon students must understand what is going on at the microscopic level. This phenomenon can be demonstrated at a smaller scale in the lab using an empty soda pop can (containing a small amount of water) that is heated and then inverted in water.

Web Resource: The Science Classroom