SciTech Now Episode 236

In this episode of SciTech Now, an invasive species of crayfish is putting other species at Crater Lake National Park in jeopardy; learn about the Lowline, an underground park set to open in 2020; a community where creativity and science merge; and LED streetlights are changing the way towns feel after dark.

TRANSCRIPT

♪♪

Coming up, a threatening invasive species...

In crayfish areas, we don't find snails.

Instead of this great biodiversity area, it's down to one or two organisms and that's it.

A hidden underground park powered by technology...

We can use these advanced solar technologies to capture natural sunlight, transport it through the street where we then redistribute it and use that natural sunlight to grow plants.

A center where creativity and science merge...

It's really fun, you learn stuff, and it actually helps you with your brain and learning.

And finally, lighting our streets with technology.

Looking at the technology that was available and how we could use that technology that was really being used in the private sector, and LED was at the top of the candidates list.

It's all ahead.

Funding for this program is made possible by...

Hello. I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Welcome to 'SciTech Now' -- our weekly program bringing you the latest breakthroughs in science, technology, and innovation.

Let's get started.

As our earth's climate changes, consequences are playing out in some surprising ways.

At Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, surface water temperature is on the rise, to the benefit of an invasive crayfish that is putting the lake's clarity and native creatures in jeopardy.

Our environmental news partner, EarthFix, has this report.

Good candidate... but no salamander.

Biologist Mark Buktenica is scouring the shoreline of Crater Lake.

Flying ants, lizards, and small toads are everywhere.

Aren't they cute?

But the critter he's looking for is much more elusive.

Then, his persistence pays off.

Oh!

This is the Mazama newt.

The Mazama newt, found no place else in the world.

Crater Lake formed nearly 8,000 years ago, after Mount Mazama erupted and the caldera began filling with rainwater.

We don't know when newts entered the caldera, but sometime thousands of years ago.

There were no fish or other predators in the newly formed lake, and the Mazama newt expanded and thrived.

He's playing dead on us now.

It was the undisputed top of the food chain.

But not anymore.

Because crawling beneath the surface of the lake, a new champion has emerged -- the signal crayfish.

Their story begins more than 100 years ago, back when getting to Crater Lake from Medford took five days by horse and wagon.

To attract visitors, early conservationists began stocking the lake with game fish like trout and salmon.

Craig Ackerman is park superintendent.

In the past, the National Parks have done many things which people thought were good ideas at the time that turned out to be not so great ideas.

In 1915, park managers introduced the signal crayfish to feed those fish.

And that turned out to be a worse decision than stocking the fish in the first place because the crayfish have become out of control.

And this is obvious out in the lake.

Scientists at the park are finding that crayfish and the Mazama newts don't really get along.

Bloop!

They're at a standoff.

What's gonna happen?

Not only do they compete for the same food, but studies done by park biologists show crayfish chase and harass the newts...

[ Gasps ]

...causing them to flee...

They're almost like pack-hunting a little.

...and, in some case, much worse.

They're virtually the perfect invader.

The Mazama newt, on the other hand, is an ideal prey.

After thousands of years evolving without predators, the newt lost its best weapon -- a potent neurotoxin that can kill.

With the loss of its toxicity, it's left virtually defenseless.

But actually, crayfish in Crater Lake weren't thought to be such a problem until relatively recently.

Surveying started in 2008, and scientists found newts had the advantage, occupying about half the shoreline.

The crayfish had most of the rest.

By 2014, the crayfish had taken over 75% of the shallows.

It's right here, Scott.

And that's not all, says biologist John Umek.

Got it.

Big bag for this one.

Crayfish are impacting all the organisms in the near shore, not only newts.

In crayfish areas, we don't find snails.

You have to go outside of the crayfish-dominated areas to even find a snail or two.

Instead of this great biodiversity area, it's down to one or two organisms and that's it, besides crayfish.

Without these tiny organisms eating the algae, the crystal blue clarity of Crater Lake could be at risk.

Crater Lake biologist Scott Girdner suspects that climate change is playing a role.

Four in 'A'.

The surface temperature of the lake has increased about three degrees in the past 10 to 15 years.

And it may just allow the crayfish to move faster.

They just are more active at warmer waters, and it may allow them to have more success at reproduction so that their numbers have increased faster now.

The team surveys for crayfish each summer.

Surface.

Oh, my gosh.

That's a lot of crayfish.

They set traps all along the shore and deep into the lake.

Six.

They count, weigh, and measure their catch.

38.55.

And they tag and release some to find out how they travel.

They've even found crayfish at 750 feet.

Look at that. That's amazing.

Deepest-known crayfish in any lake system.

What are they doing at 250 meters?

Scientists expect that if crayfish continue to spread...

It's very possible that the Mazama newt would be eliminated from the lake if we didn't do anything.

But at this point, no one knows exactly what to do.

Trapping, even intensive trapping, hasn't made a dent.

Yet there are a few glimmers of hope for the Mazama newt.

There's the possibility of building underwater barriers or fences to slow crayfish expansion.

Another solution could be provided by the lake itself.

Spring-fed pools like this emerge when avalanches pile up rock berms along the shore.

These pools are newt nurseries.

They'll come into these pools while there's still snow on the edges of the pool.

The conservation promise is that while newts move across land to get to the isolated pools, signal crayfish do not.

If other strategies to stop the spread of the crayfish aren't effective, these pools could become a final stronghold for the Mazama newt and other native animals.

We have the opportunity right now to at least slow down the invasion of crayfish.

If we miss this opportunity, I think it's gonna be a lot of trouble for the newts.

Without intervention, this unique creature could vanish from the lake within the next few decades.

Controlling the signal crayfish and protecting this unique ecosystem will be labor-intensive and expensive.

But the park service's mission and mandate is to do this above all else.

So we will put the resources into this that we feel necessary.

The sobering reality is crayfish will likely never be eliminated from Crater Lake.

Come on, little guy.

And maybe the best the National Park can hope to do is carve out a few safe havens for the Mazama newt.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

An abandoned trolly terminal on New York City's Lower East Side is being transformed into one of the world's first underground parks called the Lowline.

The park's creator, James Ramsey, is here to talk about the cutting-edge technology that will bring sunlight underground to help the park flourish.

So, the Lowline, a lot of people in New York, and maybe even other parts of the country, have heard of the High Line, which is this, you know, beautiful elevated set of tracks, and it's New York's, really, newest park.

But by 2020, what is the Lowline?

Well, so the basic premise of the Lowline is that we can use these advanced solar technologies to capture natural sunlight, transport it through the street where we then redistribute it and use that natural sunlight to grow plants and to create a public space in a really crowded area of the city.

Okay, I mean, the basic question is, how do you get sunlight underground?

Yeah, I knew you were gonna ask that.

Let me sort of back up one step.

You know, in a former life, I was a NASA engineer.

Just a peon, but we did some really interesting stuff.

And so the basic premise is taking these sort of laboratory cell optics, scaling them up to architectural scale, and using that to concentrate natural sunlight, to send it through tubes in a super-concentrated form, and then once it lands where you want to put it, you then spread that light back out and use it to grow things.

So, if I'm standing in the Lowline in 2020 -- or I'm standing there in 2020 -- I'm gonna feel like the rays of the sun, these are the actual rays of the sun, are warming my hand?

Well, I mean, yes and no.

It is literally natural sunlight that we're taking from one place and relocating to another place.

However, we're actually taking out all the infrared so we don't, you know, create a death ray or something like that.

And so it's sunlight, but you don't feel the warmth, necessarily.

It's perceptible visually as sunlight and it has all those sort of beneficial qualities, including plant growth and, you know, making people happier.

But it doesn't heat things or burn things.

So, how do you create -- How do you capture and condense the rays down and what kind of tubes do you use to actually get it underground?

Yeah, well, we're working with this amazing Korean company called Sunportal, right?

And we've been developing these systems.

And, effectively, we take a parabolic mirror, a very large one, and use that to focus the sun's rays down and then re-collimate it with another smaller parabolic mirror.

And so you end up with a column of light, like a ray, that's 30 times brighter than the sun.

And then we can sort of send that through tubes and lenses and mirrors and actually deliver, really, anywhere we want.

And when that light gets underground, what is that sunlight going to be on top of?

Just a space where the people walk around or where you said plants are gonna be growing?

Yeah, I mean, I think the light itself, you know, number one, of course, is perfect for growing stuff.

But number two, people like it.

It's good for, you know, well-being, let's say, and human enjoyment.

And you also have a lab component to this that's already up?

Yeah, absolutely.

So, if you're curious as to how that feels, we actually have an active lab that's open to the public right now, actually.

It's at 140 Essex Street.

And it's open on weekends to the general public, so anyone can go down there and see it.

And, you know, if you're curious, you can also have your kids attend with their school groups during the week.

What are the uses of this besides this particular park?

I mean, where else could people need to funnel sunlight?

Well, I mean, I think it has pretty far-reaching implications.

You put it into anything underground, obviously.

Anything with a really deep floor plate.

Anything like a hospital, a jail, a school, et cetera.

I think it would be actually kind of perfect for a moon base, but, you know, that's a little out there.

James Ramsey.

The project's called Lowline.

Thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you.

♪♪

We take a step inside the Suncoast Science Center in the Sarasota, Florida, area designed for both children and tech-savvy adults.

The center provides access to unique tools used by engineers, designers, and scientists, fostering a community where creativity and science merge.

Here's a look.

♪♪

Our overall mission is to activate, to reinstall the passion of the children and of the adults in the community and explore the physical world around us.

As the executive director of the Suncoast Science Center, Ping Faulhaber established science summer camps for the youth of Sarasota.

Well, summer's a time that school's out.

So it's a perfect time for us to get them coming here to learn about science, to have fun.

Science is the cornerstone to every project here.

Education coordinator Jennifer Holt makes the activities relevant to the students.

They're actually creating their very own stickers.

So, they designed all of their decals, they're little vinyl decals.

They designed them all on CorelDRAW, which is a two-dimensional program.

And so once they had it just how they liked it, then we came over to the vinyl cutting machine and they were able to have that cut out into sticker form.

There's a little transfer paper that we put it on, and now they've brought it home so they can go and stick it on whatever they'd like.

In this fab creations class, the campers learn to go from design to manufacturing.

So they're actually learning how to look at a picture, being able to take that into a bitmap format, deleting all the lines that they don't need or want.

Our laser etcher and our vinyl cutter both have different types of cuts.

So they will put their picture up, they'll put it through, and it won't come out quite how they wanted it to, and we start to talk about why.

So they're problem-solving, as well.

This decorative box is another project created during summer camp.

So they actually have little bedside lamps that they customized and made.

And they were actually soldering the electronics for that today and also finishing up gluing the wooden pieces around the box and inserting all of the electronics inside.

So not only are they learning the mechanics of actually soldering the pieces together and making that circuit, but they're also learning the science of the electronics and how they actually go together, where that electricity is flowing, and which way it does and does not work.

My favorite part was the art box because we used soldering and circuitry.

I would recommend it because it's really fun, you learn stuff, and it actually helps you with your brain and learning.

This is the electro lab class, where middle schoolers are delving into the world of electronics and computers.

This week the kids are learning about circuitry engineering, electromagnetic energy, programming logic.

So they're working with littleBits circuits and a product called Makey Makey.

So it's a really fantastic opportunity for experiential learning.

One of the projects that we worked on this week was creating robots out of cardboard boxes.

So they used the littleBits circuitry that they're using now to create their obstacle courses and they had to design a robot and we raced them.

Their final project required the use of circuitry, alarms, sensors, and structural design.

Their goal is to create an obstacle course that's by theme so that an opposing team member tries to traverse their obstacle course.

And they try to set up traps and alarms based on the inputs and outputs and circuitry that they've learned during the week.

They have motion sensors, pressure sensors, sound sensors, and they figure out how to put all of that together to create an obstacle course.

So, in order for their inputs and their outputs to work correctly, again, they also understand about electromagnetic energy, about circuitry, about programming logic.

So they're using all of that, but they're really just having fun.

I didn't really know much about, like, electricity or anything.

And so I learned a lot here, and I had a really good time, too.

I would recommend this to one of my friends because I thought it was really enjoyable and educational, and I just thought that it was a really good time.

Team Chaos created an impenetrable obstacle course.

We put tinfoil and a sound trigger inside so when they stepped on the tinfoil, it would cause the sound trigger to go off.

It was really fun to make this.

It took a lot of teamwork and, like, just a bunch a different ideas being put into it, and we would change different things around after they wouldn't work.

I would definitely recommend it to a friend because you learn about circuitry and alarm systems.

You can create a lot of cool things like a fruit orchestra where you can press on fruits and they'll make different sounds.

[ Notes playing ]

So I hope that they understand that technology are not just objects that they can use, but they're powerful tools that they can use to create so that as they continue their education, hopefully they'll be inspired to go into engineering fields and understand that they can create these devices, they can come up with an idea like they're doing now and use their knowledge to invent something completely new.

The Suncoast Science Center is not just for children.

They also have the Faulhaber FAB LAB -- a digital fabrication lab.

Here, high-tech equipment like 3D printers, routers, and lathes are available for people to design and create their own projects.

It's very important to be able to offer this equipment so people can actually make their product.

And a lot of people have ideas in their head.

Where are they gonna go?

There's no places.

And a lot of them, people couldn't afford them to have in their home or they don't have the space for it.

So it makes perfect sense to have in the community a central place that people can come here to build their dream.

A place to build your dreams is a place for scientists to explore.

If you have a community that doesn't have a science center, there's not a place for you to actually go and practice science and get better at science.

And this is true of not only kids, but also for adults, as well.

It's really important for a community to be scientifically literate.

The center has been in operation for a little over a year.

But Ping sees this place as a vital part of the Sarasota community.

We envision in three, five years we'll have so many activities, this place's gonna be so packed you won't be able to come in and, you know, it'll become like a fun playground -- a science playground.

A place to play, explore, experiment, discover -- the Suncoast Science Center is helping young and old to imagine the future.

Yeah, so we're undefeated!

♪♪

From Main Street to the interstate, technology is illuminating our roadways.

And a company from New York is on the forefront of manufacturing LED streetlights that can change the way a town feels after dark.

Here's a look.

EEP is an LED company, a green company.

They're developing a lot of different types of applications for energy-efficient products.

This particular operation here supports EEP's operation with respect to developing fixtures and retrofit kits.

For instance, last year, we developed the first UL-approved LED tube light fixture.

Right now in this country, you cannot buy another UL-approved LED light fixture except for the one we developed and got approved through UL.

So that gives EEP really a level above any other manufacturer and supplier out there with respect to Underwriters Laboratory's approved fixtures.

Additionally, we're making a lot of retrofit kits for them and developing new products for them to further augment their offerings, as well as assist people in using their energy-efficient products.

I got involved in government as a resident in the Village of Ilion.

And between 2006 and 2010, I had the honor of being the mayor.

And it was during that time, looking for unique ways and methodologies to help add value to the village, save the taxpayers' money, and I got studying LED lighting and was one of the first mayors to install LED lights in central New York on one of the main thoroughfares in the community.

Looking at the technology that was available and how we could use that technology that was really being used in the private sector and how could we transition it to the public sector, and LED was at the top of the candidates list.

It's innovative in the sense that there's a lot of -- Again, the technology's moving, the technology's changing, and we're taking advantage of that.

Rather than just watching it happen, we're taking that opportunity and making something of it.

So we're using some, I won't call them low-tech, but not extremely high-tech pieces as well as some high-tech pieces, and combining those, relying on our synergy to develop really high-tech solutions that put us in the forefront.

You know, the technology that EEP has right now has come so far since 2006, 2008 -- that period when I was involved.

Most people really probably don't even realize now that much of the roadway in many communities across the nation is being lit by LED lights.

More importantly, the light is illuminating the roadways.

So it's focusing not only the light, but it's also focusing the taxpayers' money where it should be.

And that is safety, security, and added value for everyone.

And that wraps it up for this time.

For more on science, technology, and innovation, visit our website, check us out on Facebook and Instagram, and join the conversation on Twitter.

You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Until next time, I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Thanks for watching.

Funding for this program is made possible by...