The Manatee Project (Projeto Peixe-Boi), Itamaraca Island, Brazil

What we do if we’ve got a holiday/day off right in the middle of the week? We get out of the house, hauling the 3 kids around! This time, our family decided to take a day trip to a nearby island, named Itamaraca (“rock that sings” in Tupi-Guarany language – there’ll be a later post about it!)

The island of Itamaracá, located 40 km from Recife, is separated from the continent by the Jaguaribe River. It has calm beach waters, with coconut trees, natural swimming pools, reefs, sandbanks and a fort (originally built during the Dutch Colonization Period), Besides the cultural and historical features, its ecological reservations with native forests, the island shelters the Manatee Preservation Center.

The native name for the manatee is “peixe-boi“, an enormous creature that intrigues any curious souls – especially, our toddlers’ curious eyes and minds!

Centro de Preservação do Peixe-Boi” (Manatee Preservation Center) – is open for visitors from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 4 pm, it is an excellent opportunity to see the manatee so closely, this exotic sea mammal..

 

“We’ve got the power!” Women scientists in Brazil punching above their weight, in technology.

Resultado do edital Futuras Cientistas
FU TU RE SCI EN TIS TS

The original idea for this project came from the joint interest of the Brazilian government to establish innovative ways to stimulate the participation of young adult women in Science and Technology. Different partnerships have been established since then, and now, high school students, and teachers from public schools in Brazil are having an unique opportunity. They’re the pioneers of an age (thanks, Giovanna Machado!) – women coming from limited-resorces settings are been offered the chance to learn and work in science, thanks to the largest Center for Technology in the North-Northeastern regions of Brazil, CETENE. CETENE is a research centre developing technological innovations for the development of the North-Eastern region of Brazil. It is the North-Eastern branch of the National Institute of Science and Technology of the Ministry of Science and Technology. They have an institutional network in the North East and rest of the country. They have a biofactory (Biofabrica) of scaled up production of sugar cane, pine-apple, banana, orchids, flowers and new development of other materials. The biodiesel unit is operational and a new, larger one is under construction. The network Rede NanoCETENE is linked to the nanotechnology and electron microscopy lab (LAMM). Research fields include nanobiotechnology and nanostructured materials. This network is open to anyone who is interested in cooperation, also with Europe. The focus is on applying natural resources of the North-Eastern region of Brazil.

Get ready: we're coming!

This month, the Center of Technology received the visit of 8 US women scientists, who came as part of this project for “Future Scientists”, which offered me the opportunity to get to know a bit more about the innovative work that’s been carried out at CETENE. See below some of the images from our visit, as well as the guest participants, from different research institutes in the USA, with different backgrounds, but all of us sharing the same goal: improving the participation of women in Science & Technology; recognizing the work that’s already been done, and preparing the future generations for an equal and fair tomorrow… 😮

Guests/Visitors:

1-Lauren Armstrong – PhD candidate in chemical engineering
Nanotechnology for the United States Army, New Jersey

2- Candace Caroll, PhD – Postdoctoral fellow
Biochemistry at St. Jude’s Hospital, Tennessee

3-Parinaz Massoumzadeh, PhD – Researcher
Radiology at Washington University, Missouri

4-Ofelia Olivero, PhD – Associate Scientist
Cancer biology and genetics at (NIH), National Institute of Health, Maryland

5-Amelia Patrick, MS – Structural and civil engineer for Walter P Moore, Texas

6-Erin Pettit, PhD – Assistant Professor
Geophysics and glaciology at University of Alaska, Alaska

7-Donnette Sturdivant, MS – Environmental Engineer
Air quality monitoring at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), North Carolina

8-Diane Wray-Cahen, PhD – Science Advisor
Animal biotechnology at (USDA)United StatesDepartment of Agriculture Washington, DC

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Photography: Exploring the mangrove biome on Itamaraca Island, Brazil.

Our family went on a day trip to the Itamaraca Island, located in northern coast of Pernambuco. There, we had the opportunity to go an boat expedition through the the mud flats (mangue) area. The name of the island, Itamaraca, comes from the Tupy-Guarany language, and means “rock that sings”. The tropical holiday Island of Itamaracá is connected to the main land by a 400 meter long road bridge and is situated just 45 minute drive from the city of Recife and it’s international airport. It has an area of round 65 km² and rises to an altitude of about 20 meters.

The island was annexed for the Portuguese crown in 1526 by Francisco Garcia and in that year the first settler was Duarte Coelho from Portuguese Pernambuco. In 1631 the large fortification Forte Orange was built by the Dutch under Frederico Henrique de Orange, who at one time lived on Mauritius Island. In 1866 a lighthouse was erected on the island. Nature in abundance, cultural and historical sites are to be found on this island which is separated from the mainland by the “Canal de Santa Cruz”.

The “mangue” is a type of vegetation found in areas where the waters from the sea and from rivers are mixed, adapted to the high salinity and to the muddy soil – an unique experience to a biologist mom, a passionate photographer dad and, for our delighted and curious children… See below some of the images taken during the the “Miranda Family expedition” – hope you all enjoy them, as much as we have!

Our family went on a day trip to the Itamaraca Island, located in northern coast of Pernambuco. There, we had the opportunity to go an boat expedition through the the mud flats (mangue) area. The name of the island, Itamaraca, comes from the Tupi-Guarany language, and means “rock that sings“. The tropical holiday Island of Itamaracá is connected to the main land by a 400 meter long road bridge and is situated just 45-minute drive from the city of Recife and the international airport. It has an area of round 65 km² and rises to an altitude of about 20 meters.

The island was annexed for the Portuguese crown in 1526 by Francisco Garcia and in that year the first settler was Duarte Coelho from Portuguese Pernambuco. In 1631 the large fortification Forte Orange was built by the Dutch under Frederico Henrique de Orange, who at one time lived on Mauritius Island. In 1866 a lighthouse was erected on the island. Nature in abundance, cultural and historical sites are to be found on this island which is separated from the mainland by the “Canal de Santa Cruz“. The “mangue” or mangrove is a type of vegetation found in areas where the waters from the sea and from rivers are mixed, adapted to the high salinity and to the muddy soil – an unique experience to a biologist mom, a passionate photographer dad and, our delighted and curious children… See below some of the images taken during the the “Miranda Family expedition” – hope you all enjoy them, as much as we have!

View from the island

Getting ready for some good shots

Entering the “mangue jungle”

oyster colonies growing along the tree branches
deeper into the 'mangue'
'aquatic jungle'
closer look at the populations of oysters and mangrove crabs
tree roots make the best shelter for mangrove crabs

Getting “stuck”… our boat got trapped!

nowhere to go... 😮
We're stuck! Great opportunity for pictures!
intriguing roots and branches...
budding oysters all over the place!

Thrilled “explorers”

family back from 'manguetown'
lots of green on our way back to the island
a fantastic experience!
one happy explorer!

Why Science is Hard to Learn.

At the same time, it begs the question:

“why is Science hard to teach”?

Got two words for that:

misleading concepts

The other day, when I found myself mentioning to students ‘I’d been teaching for longer than they’d been breathing’, I realized that, despite the long time, the challenges of teaching Science were always there…

I could list here various reasons for those difficulties: perhaps students have persistent preconceptions (especially misconceptions); lack previous life experiences (including those they might have missed in school) that would have provided valuable background information on the topic; maybe even a limited ability in the math skills needed for a particular subject; difficulty understanding abstract ideas; all that together requires a lot of extra strategic teaching skills from the teacher. If the majority of these difficulties are not addressed, in one way or another, students may end up developing even more misconceptions and more gaps in their learning…

So, maybe, teaching Science is harder than learning it? Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to this question, and would gladly accept suggestions and/or guidance… Teaching is already hard enough by itself. When we add to the pot a series of misleading concepts, which aren’t all untrue in their nature, but extremely challenging to explain and to be understood, then, the boiling conclusion teachers have to face are serious instructional dilemmas

But, hey! Although hard to admit, some concepts are not as easy to teachers as we may try to sell them to students! [guilty smiles!]

One common fact is that the more abstract a Science topic is, the harder it is to learn for many people, including us, teachers! Telling Science to students is not teaching Science.

These images all show an aspect of science, but a complete view of science is more than any particular instance.
image from University of California Berkley (ucberkley.edu)

We all, students or not, learn by “doing” Science, and abstract topics need to be made concrete. The question is: ‘How?” How to transform concepts such as “the flow of matter and energy in ecosystems“, “matter and its transformations“, “Earth’s shape and gravity“, and understanding changes in motion – into something more concrete? Luckily, for these questions in particular, if you are curious, feel free to visit the “Hard-to-teach Science Concepts“, a great discussion-book for teachers and committed parents. Students are better able to face their misconceptions and preconceptions when they are engaged in instructional activities, placing Science into a context they are capable of understanding…

If learning Science is considered to be difficult, the reverse activity, the act of passing on your life and academic experiences, your knowledge, your discussion points, through teaching sessions, is also challenging! And as Carl Sagan once stated (see box above), offering our students and our children a “shrug” as a possible answer, could just be the path of least resistance, but definitely, may not work in the long run when attempting to raise intellectually motivated students – that being in Science or in any other academic field.

Good luck to us all, Science teachers or not, and I’m wrapping this ‘brainstorming’ post up, with a very optimistic smile… 😮

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Pumping for the future – thoughts on life and work balance in the Foreign Service

This past weekend I finally got my way around the Foreign Service Journal. As most of us already know, the Journal, including the AFSA News section, is published monthly, with each issue covering foreign affairs from an insider’s perspective. Well, this last edition was entirely focused on Foreign Service Work-Life Balance.

One article in particular, from Elizabeth Power, really caught my attention and triggered me to write down some personal thoughts and comments regarding the issues related to get back to work after having a baby, having to balance the need to keeping a healthy baby home, away from his nursing mother, breast pumping techniques and challenges, work flexibility and the social perception of a breastfeeding mother in the expatriate/foreign service scenario.

Regarding the scope of this particular post, I believe it’s unnecessary to list out the countless benefits of breastfeeding, for both mom and baby, as well as for employees’ improved evaluations of their work-life balance. Many women have made sacrifices to continue breastfeeding after they return to work. We do this despite the inconvenience of hooking ourselves up to a milking machine three times a day, because the health benefits for our babies and ourselves abound.  For the past six years, I’ve been a nursing, breast pumping, bottle-feeding mom. Any technique that would seem possible, realistic, and why not say, loving, I’d adopt!

At first, with some guilt, especially when you’re having your first baby, not so sure about how you’re supposed to manage a new baby, riding the Metro to work, surviving the extended hours away from the baby… With my first child, I knew very little about alternative feeding techniques. Traditional breastfeeding seemed to be my only route, and my obligation as a new mom, especially considering I come from a Latino family, where women are brought up to become loving caretakers… Visits to the lactation consultant helped immensely, but did not diminish my (uncalled for) guilt. My husband and I asked for help. Friends, family. We had both sets of baby’s grandparents living with us for the initial 9 months. I needed to get back to work and perform accordingly, while husband kept his regular working hours. In the best of circumstances, expressing milk at work can bring lactating women a new kind of camaraderie with their colleagues, not to mention management support as they carve out break times, find private accommodations and use sinks to clean equipment. But pumping can also be inconvenient, awkward and downright impossible at worst, depending on the job and the workplace.

Life was challenging, but we managed. The experience made me learn how to use and benefit from an electric breast pump, how to store and transport breast milk. Unfortunately, I’d started to learn a little too late in the process, and by the end of the third month, my firstborn was fully dependent on baby formula. But we learnt, with our actions, our attempts, our mistakes. We learnt.

The lessons learnt proved to be extremely helpful when baby #2 came along. As soon as I found out about the pregnancy, began visiting the La Leche League websites, acquiring information, reviews, opinions from other parents… Before we welcomed our baby girl, I’d already gotten a modern electric breast pump, with replacement parts, storage bags, and a “back up/safety” shipment (thanks to the Pouch!) of the pediatricians’ most-recommended baby formula (one never knows, right?). We, as second-time parents, seemed to be good to go.

And things were way easier that time. Breastfeeding was a breeze, and kept both mom and baby as happy as they could be. The practice made the perfection. When it was time to bring our 28-day old baby girl from South Africa back to Mozambique, her mom comfortably used the electric pump in the car, during the 2-plus car drive, stopping to rest, feed and cross the border. Batteries were key, and they make for an extraordinary accessory for breast-pumping moms! Always have them handy – no electricity? no problem!

Once I had to return full-time to work – an USAID contractor – my boss, who by coincidence happened to be a mother, and somebody who understands the challenges a new mom has, was very sympathetic to the cause, and allowed me to use one of her offices, as well as the office’s kitchenette fridge for storage. Probably, the most difficult part was dealing with the skeptic looks I got from my local co-workers, not used to that practice. That flexibility allowed me to attend meetings with PEPFAR partners, and to travel to the provinces, always carrying my pumping gear, bottles and cooler! The balance between work and life had been achieved!

Now we’re on baby #3. Still nursing and still pumping. I’m not a full-time worker anymore, but expressing milk enables me to get back into the “workforce“, as a part-timer. I spend more time with my baby, and I know we both benefit from that. I also have support: the patience and help from my dear husband, who watches the kids while I “disappear“; I’ve got help from a wonderful nanny, who learnt first-hand how to manipulate the milk and prepare the bottles; and I’ve got help from my 2 toddlers, who have seen their mom pumping-and-feeding in recent years. They understand the importance and are respectful to the process: “Shhhh, be quiet. Mommy needs to feed to the baby…

Once more, we seem to be achieving the balance between work and family life…

Bonus: Tip

Have you ever melted pump or bottle parts when boiling them? (be honest!)

Try this: When boiling items such as pump or bottle parts, put a couple of glass marbles into the pot and stay within earshot. If the water level gets low and the pot is about to boil dry, the marbles will start bouncing and clattering in the pan and alert you in time.