David M. Schwartz
The amazing, engaging, math exponent.
Think of a big number. How about one million? It's a thousand thousand. That's a lot. If you counted nonstop to a million, it would take you about 23 days.
A million is small compared to a billion, which is a thousand million. Want to count that high? You'll be at it for 95 years. But a trillion makes a billion look puny. A trillion is a thousand billion (or a million million). Counting that high would take you 200,000 years. Have fun!
Of course trillion is not the biggest number. There's quadrillion, quintillion, sextillion, septillion, octillion, nonillion, decillion and more. Each is a thousand of the previous one. There's even a humongous number called vigintillion, a one with 63 zeros.
But vigintillion is a shrimp compared to a googol. Googol? Notice how it's spelled: G-O-O-G-O-L, not G-O-O-G-L-E. The number googol is a one with a hundred zeros. It got its name from a nine-year old boy. A googol is more than all the hairs in the world. It's more than all the grass blades and all the grains of sand. It's even more than the number of atoms in the universe. Astrophysicists estimate the number of atoms to be a one with 82 zeros. You'd need to add 18 more zeros to get to a googol.
Incidentally, a few years ago, the two men who had invented a powerful new internet search engine decided to name their website and company for the gigantic number googol. But they spelled it wrong. That's why the company Google is spelled with an L-E. But the number googol is still spelled with an O-L.
Googol is so large that it's practically useless, but the boy who named it came up with a name for an even bigger number, "googolplex." A googolplex is a one with a googol zeros. There isn't enough ink in all the pens of the world to write that many zeros but feel free to give it a try.
So is googolplex is the biggest number? What about a googolplex and one? Two googolplex? A googolplex googolplex? Any number you say, I can say one bigger.
I hear you asking, "What about infinity? Isn't that the biggest number?" Sorry, but infinity isn't a number. A number specifies an amount and infinity is no amount. It means "goes on and on forever."
And that's what numbers do. They go on and on forever. Infinity is not a number but numbers are infinite.
Think you're too old for an alphabet book? You'll think again if you check out a sampling from David M. Schwartz's: B is for Binary, F is for Fibonacci, P is for Probability... You can see that this is an ABC book unlike any other. For more information, click here.
David Schwartz is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through FieldTripZoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more
MLA 8 Citation
Schwartz, David M. "What's the Biggest Number?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 1 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ Whats-the-Biggest-Number.
STEM through the lens
Chances are you’ve seen this photograph before—maybe on a T-shirt, on a billboard, or in a TV ad. The “Blue Marble Shot” has been reprinted more than any other photograph in history. It was taken on December 7, 1972, by one of the three Apollo 17 astronauts on their way to the Moon. But no one knows which astronaut took the picture because all three claimed to have been the photographer.
During the few minutes Apollo 17 flew across the place in space located directly between the Sun and Earth (which was 28,000 miles away), no one should have been looking out of the window as they all had important tasks to do. But, obviously, someone, and perhaps everyone, was looking out. One of them grabbed a camera and clicked the shutter four times.
After Apollo 17 returned to Earth, the picture was published on the front page of newspapers all over the world. For the first time ever, people saw the full planet Earth completely flooded in sunshine. Heavy clouds swirled over vast oceans. The African coastline was clearly visible, with its northeastern edge fitting like a puzzle piece with the Arabian Peninsula. Madagascar, the fourth largest island on Earth, was slightly off center, looking like a slipper floating in the middle of the Indian Ocean. And because the photo was taken just two weeks before the winter solstice, Earth’s southern hemisphere was tilted toward the sun, revealing Antarctica. For the first time ever, the south polar ice caps appeared in a photo.
The mystery of who took the picture has never been solved. The commander of the mission, Eugene Cernan, who was the last man to walk on the moon, says he snapped the picture. But would the commander have had the time to take the photo at that critical point of the flight? Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, the first geologist sent to the moon, also swears that he took the picture. Perhaps that makes sense because he was responsible for making scientific observations. Ron Evans, who died in 1990, also claimed that he took the picture.
No one will ever know for sure who took the Blue Marble Shot. But the words of Commander Eugene Cernan describe what he saw out of his spaceship window “…you can look out the window and you're looking at the most beautiful star in the heavens— the most beautiful because it's the one we understand and we know, it's home, it's people, family, love, life —and besides that, it is beautiful. ”
In Alex's book Cars on Mars you can follow the course of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission as twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity explore the Red Planet. Learn how scientists determined that there was once water on Mars and how the earthbound NASA team resolved problems with the rovers from afar in order to prolong the mission, which continues today. For more information, click here.
Alex is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 CItation
Siy, Alexandra. "Mystery of the Blue Marble." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 30 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ Mystery-of-the-Blue-Marble.
How many of you have ever taken a selfie with friends and posted it on Instagram? Millions of people carry their cell phones with them all the time just in case they get a call or email. But we also use the camera on our iphones to record our day-to-day lives, sometimes exaggerating for affect.
Did you know that the first selfie was taken in 1839 by Robert Cornelius, an American pioneer in photography? He had to uncover the lens, run to be in the photo and then go back to replace the lens cap. There is a copy of his selfie etched onto his gravestone.
In 1913 the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia was only thirteen when she took a picture of herself in the mirror with a Kodak Brownie camera and sent it to a friend.
In the 1970s instant cameras made it easier for amateur photographers to take photos with instant results. And digital cameras thirty years later made it even easier.
When did the word selfie become a common word in the English language? I first heard it from my granddaughter, now thirteen-year-old Clara, who asked me to take a selfie with her on her smart phone. That was only about three years ago but by then “selfies,” especially by teenage girls, had flooded the internet. By 2017, social media, such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, all of which encouraged the practice, reported over 800 million monthly users of their selfie promotion app. Features of this selfie phenomenon include apps that allow users to alter their appearance, sometimes in both hilarious and unflattering ways.
In 2013 the Oxford English Dictionary anointed the selfie word of the year, making it officially worthy of a spot in our vocabulary. Here is their definition.
“A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.”
Cindy Sherman, an artist who uses photographs as her medium, just as others might use paints and brushes, has made a career of using herself as the model, the photographer, the director and the costumer of her artwork. As a child she loved dressing up, disguising herself with make-up and clothes she collected at Goodwill or secondhand shops. When she grew up, she still liked playing dress-up and at art school, started photographing herself posed in various roles. Her first photographs in black and white, grainy images she meant to be faded and imperfect, came out in 1977. She was in her twenties, living in New York, working as a receptionist in an art gallery. As a clown, a teen queen, a society matron, a biker, and many other characters in elaborate costumes, she mainly explored roles of women in America’s cultural landscape. The art world took notice of these sixty-nine black-and-white prints of young women, who each seemed caught in an uncomfortable or scary moment. Sherman’s career has moved forward with fame and fanfare ever since.
Two summers ago she took her private Instagram account public. Tens of thousands of followers signed on to watch Sherman’s self-portraits, wildly distorted headshots of herself. Instead of masquerading with fake noses and lips, thick make-up and wild get-ups, she used Facetune, Perfect365, and YouCamMakeup to change the shape of her face, the color of her eyes, her hair and her complexion. The results were both hilarious and frightening. How did she start on this new quest? She says she was lying around for weeks after an injury and just started playing around with her iphone, taking a look at some apps friends had told her about. The results, she says, are not competing with her serious art. She’s not a perfectionist about these selfies as she is in her studio. But selfies freed her up to experiment. They allowed her to imagine the images of these molded and sculpted, at times grotesque, at other times fetching portraits going out into cyber space. She envisioned them arriving onto thousands of screens and devices, each time making us all wonder yet again, “Who is the real Cindy Sherman?” “Who is the real me?”
Jan Greenberg's latest book (with Sandra Jordan) is Meet Cindy Sherman: Artist-Photographer-Chameleon. They have created an unconventional biography, that much like Cindy Sherman's famous photographs, has something a little more meaningful under the surface. Infusing the narrative with Sherman's photographs, as well as young people's first impressions of the photographs, this is a biography that goes beyond birth, middle age, and later life. It's a look at how we look at art.
Polar bears are built to withstand some of the coldest temperatures on the planet. Their brown and black bear cousins avoid the winter cold by digging dens and sleeping. But, except for pregnant females, polar bears spend the arctic winter outside where temperatures could be -40° F (which equals-40 °C) and windy. That’s too cold for humans. You could go outside, but only for only a few minutes with every part of your body completely covered. And if you didn’t wear goggles, your eyelashes would freeze and break off if you touched them.
Polar bears are warm-blooded like us with a body temperature of about 98°F/37°C. But they are invisible to night-vision goggles that pick up the infrared rays that warm-blooded creatures, including humans, give off. Why? Nature has given polar bears enough insulation to prevent body heat from escaping. They are toasty warm and comfortable in the frigid arctic.
Their heat insulation is in several layers. Under their skin, there is a 4-inch (21.5 cm) layer of fat. Next to the skin is a dense layer of woolly fur that also keeps heat in. The fur you see is a thick layer of long, colorless guard hairs that shed water quickly after a swim. They are stiff and transparent and hollow. In the arctic sunlight, the hairs act like mirrors and reflect white light, which acts as camouflage against the snow so the bears are not seen by their prey. Polar bear skin is actually black, so that it can absorb the invisible warm infrared rays of the sun and the bear’s own body heat, both of which are reflected back by the guard hairs.
Most warm-blooded animals raise their body temperatures through exercise. Polar bears hunt seals, which they don’t often chase. They prefer to sit at the edge of an ice floe and wait for dinner to arrive. At best, they’ll lumber after a seal at four and a half miles (7.25 km) an hour, raising their body heat to 100°F (38°C). When that happens, they go for a swim to cool off.
Cold won’t kill off the polar bears, but global warming can. As polar ice disappears, so does the hunting ground for seals. Not so cool!
Close up, the polar bear guard hairs are transparent. This allows the infra-red light (heat) from the sun to pass through them to be absorbed by the black skin under the hairs. The hairs also act like mirrors , reflecting back to the skin any infra-red radiation escaping from the bears body so it can be reabsorbed. Thus, the insulation is just about perfect with no infra-red radiation escaping. The hairs are also coated with oil so they drain quickly after a swim.
Vicki Cobb's This Place Is Cold shows how the latitude of Alaska affects the lives of the plants, animals and people who live there. It is gloriously illustrated by Barbara Lavallee, a long-time Alaskan resident and artist.
Vicki is a member of Authors on Call—she can visit your classroom with interactive videoconferencing: Read more about her here.
MLA 8 Citation
Cobb, Vicki. "The Way Polar Bears Keep Warm Is Cool." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 29 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/The-Way-Polar-Bears-Keep-Warm-Is-Cool.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
“Whatever happens to this single animal, let him always remind us that
the fate of all living things on Earth is in human hands.”
These words, inscribed on a panel by the enclosure where the last of his race, the Pinta Island tortoise called Lonesome George, are no longer needed. George died on June 24, 2012, at an undetermined age, but likely more than 100 years. Even so, his actual death is merely a symbol of extinction, since he was the only one of his kind left. Without a mate for George, this species was doomed.
Perhaps George’s death, however, will impress people with the power of our own species to doom or to save others. The thoughtless short-term thinking so common among humans ignores the long-term effects of our actions. During the 1800s, whalers, fur sealers, and other seafaring folks raided the Galapagos Islands for food. The giant land tortoises that populated the islands were perfect for long-term storage, as they could survive for a year or more on a ship without eating or drinking. Their diluted urine provided drinking water as well. The Pinta tortoise population was hit the hardest by this exploitation because Pinta is the farthest north of the islands and thus the last one visited when the sailors left for the open sea.
By 1959 the tortoises had just about disappeared from Pinta. Some fishermen released three goats there, knowing they would reproduce to make island meat once more available to ships. The goat population exploded, devastating the island vegetation and dooming any animals that depended on it for survival.
In 1979, a scientist studying snails came across George, who was soon brought to the Tortoise Center on nearby Santa Cruz Island for protection. But hopes of finding a mate for George and thus saving his species faded with the years, and Lonesome George became what he remains after his death, a symbol of careless exploitation by humans.
Now, after careful restoration of his remains, Lonesome George was on exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in 2015, after which he was returned to Ecuador. The plaque overlooking his old corral now reads, “We promise to tell your story and to share your conservation message.”
Some good news! Unlike the Pinta subspecies, conservationists have managed to help bring back the tortoises on the Galapagos island of Espanola from a low of only 16 to a population of more than 1,000 now living on their home island. Here, scientists are recording information about the tortoises in their native environment. Photo : Flickr: Sebastian Keynes via Christian Zeigler
Read how one endangered species got returned to its natural home and thrived in Dorothy's book, When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature's Balance in Yellowstone. She says " I loved writing this book, which describes the positive changes in the ecology of the park that are happening since the wolves came back--healthier willows, more beavers and small predators, more song birds, and more. Wolves have also returned to several western states around Yellowstone, including Montana, and their presence there is also helping restore the natural environment."
Dorothy Patent is a member of Authors on Call. You can bring her to your school via our Zoom Room. Here's a link to her program on wolves.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "Lonesome George: The Face of Extinction." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 27 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ Lonesome-George-the-face-of-extinction.