Sunday, April 30, 2017

Environmental Legislation in the United States

The history of environmental policy in the United States began with the Refuse Act (put in place in 1899), which prohibited dumping of waste or contaminants into waterways. This one policy paved the way for many more pieces of environmental legislation in the United States. In this post, I’m going to go over some of the main and most important pieces of legislation in the United States today, and what they do.

  1. Clean Air Act (CAA)
The Clean Air Act, passed in 1963 and amended several times over the next 30 years, is an act to control air contamination on a national scale. This act set goals to reduce the amount of various pollutants in the air. Some of the major air pollutants identified by this act are carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, ozone, and particulate matters. The CAA established limits on the emission of each of these pollutants for businesses and also set standards for automobile technology to reduce car emissions.
     2. Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
Passed in December of 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act ensures clean drinking water for the general public. This act sets standards that water suppliers are required to meet. These standards include the concentration of suspended particles, the maximum allowed concentration of toxic chemicals, and microbiological contaminants.
     3. Clean Water Act (CWA)
This act, which is the primary federal law that governs water contamination, aims to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into bodies of water in the United States. The CWA establishes standards for factories as to how much and what kinds of contaminants they are allowed to produce and discharge as a part of their production process.
     4. Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)/Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA)
CERCLA, also commonly referred to as Superfund, was created to identify and provide funding for the cleanup of sites that had been contaminated with hazardous wastes. Funds are provided for both short and long-term cleanup. In addition to removal, CERCLA also emphasizes prevention of further disasters.  This act also requires industries to report their emissions regularly, and also established a national contingency plan in case of further environmental disasters.
     5. Resource Conservation and Recovery Acts (RCRA)/ Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA)
This act sets protocols for various activities that concern the environment, such as the classification of wastes, or tracking hazardous wastes. Established in 1976, RCRA established standards for things like energy and resource conservation, waste management, and the reduction of the amount of waste generated by various industries.

While this post does outline some of the major acts created to protect the environment, this is by no means a complete list. To read up on other environmental legislation, visit the EPA’s website here.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Making a Udemy Course: The Execution (Part 2)

So, I had an idea for a course. This was nice and all, but how was I to actually execute said idea? In Udemy’s guidelines for their instructors, they recommend that all non-technical (meaning not coding related) courses have at least 20% of their content be in the form of talking head videos, where the instructor’s face is visible. This is to help build up a connection between the student and teacher that might otherwise be lost in an online course. Because the purpose of the live videos was to connect the teacher and student, I decided that introduction and conclusion videos (for each unit) would be best suited to being live videos, as I wouldn’t have to worry about diagrams and text nearly as much.

Udemy also requires that videos be very professional - with high quality, good audio, good lighting. Because of this, we had to set up a sort of makeshift recording studio. We decided to put up some sort of backdrop, in order to provide a non-distracting background, and to help reduce shadows. The first time we tried this, our backdrop did not end up being large enough - videos are supposed to be shot in a 16:9 ratio (with respect to the width and height of the frame), and the background we had did not allow for this.
The background was not big enough.

Because of this, we then had to redesign our backdrop. This time, we decided to make it bigger, with a sturdy frame to support it.
IMG_0769 (1).JPG

We then covered said frame with green cloth.
We then draped this with another fabric to make our backdrop.
We used an easel to hold up the backdrop.
We decided to use two tripods - one for the light, and one for the camera.
We also attached a makeshift harness, to hold an iPad. You see, there was also a question of memorizing the scripts for the videos. Given that we needed to film a significant number of live videos, it would be impractical to memorize scripts for every single video. Therefore, I decided to download a prompter app for iPad that would use audio recognition to scroll through the script when it registered that I was saying my lines. This app helped quite a bit, and I was able to even film some of my videos in one take.
After the filming of the live videos was finished, I had to go through and make the rest of the more content heavy videos. These videos, I created with the use of PowerPoint and QuickTime player. The process of recording these videos was quite simple - I made a presentation and a script, and used QuickTime player to simultaneously record my screen and my voice. The challenge in making these videos lay in actually producing the content, but as time went on, I got more efficient at making these videos, and could make a 5 minute video in around 3 hours.
Soon after I submitted my course to Udemy for review, my course was passed by their review team! Now, my course has been published, but I have been working on making quizzes to go with every video, and extra worksheets and graphic organizers for every unit.

Making a Udemy Course: The Idea (Part 1)

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on creating an online AP Environmental Science course to publish on Udemy, an “online learning and teaching marketplace.”

This idea came to me after I took the AP Environmental Science Exam just last year, in 2016. I had self-studied because the course was not offered at my school. I did get a 5, but during my studying, I noticed that the prep books I had used, and the College Board curriculum itself were not structured in a way that allowed the student to make clear connections between concepts. Making connections, in the instance of this particular class doesn’t just make for a better learning experience - it’s practically essential. Given the sheer volume of material that students are required to know for the exam (from chemical equations to laws and current events), you need to be able to draw connections between topics in order to internalize and remember all the material.

Within the curriculum, the main areas that I decided to rearrange were the sections on the atmosphere, water, and the earth. In the original format of the curriculum, atmospheric concepts were in their own section, but the chapter on atmospheric pollution came several chapters and hundred of pages later. As a student, this didn’t work for me - and other students I surveyed agreed. So, when I structured my own course, I made sure to rearrange the curriculum so these concepts would be in the same unit.

Another thing that really stood out to me, as I looked at score statistics for this exam, was just how poorly students did on the free response. On most questions, the average score on a free response question would be two out of 10 points - which perhaps explained why so few people (about 7%) score a five on this exam. Because of this, I decided to place an emphasis on the free response section in my course. The free response section requires students to not only remember information but to also go a step further and use this information to solve problems. This format is yet another reason I had decided to rearrange the concepts in a manner more conducive to problem-solving.

I will be talking a bit more about the details of actually making the course in my next post, so stay tuned for that!  

Monday, February 27, 2017

An Assessment of Alternative Fuels

If you’ve been in tune with recent news at all, you’re probably aware that we’re in the midst of a fuel crisis - we currently depend largely on coal to produce our energy, which happens to be a nonrenewable fuel source. On top of this, it is also clear that our usage of coal as an energy source hasn’t been great for the environment - when coal is burned, it produces many compounds that pollute the air, causing things like respiratory problems and acid rain. Because of these, people have been looking into implementing cleaner, renewable sources of energy. You’ve probably heard of solar energy, wind energy, and nuclear power, among other things. So if we’ve discovered alternative sources of energy, why haven’t we replaced coal yet? Let’s observe the pros and cons of some renewable sources of energy.

Solar energy is energy from the sun that is converted into thermal or electric energy, and this conversion is done by something called a photovoltaic cell.Solar energy is quite abundant, low-maintenance, and is also silent (unlike other alternate forms of energy, such as wind energy). However, solar energy is not always constant - less energy would be available on cloudy days. Also, it is expensive, and solar cells require a lot of space.

Nuclear power is produced by the splitting of uranium atoms in a process called fission. Fission is the splitting of large atoms into two smaller ones, called fission products. Atoms are split upon collision with a neutron. This collision causes the atom to split and releases more neutrons, which in turn can go on to split more atoms, causing a sort of chain reaction. The heat produced by this fission reaction is used to heat water, which turns a turbine that produces electricity. This is sustainable and environmentally friendly. However, nuclear waste is difficult to dispose of, accidents have the potential to be disastrous, and this method of producing energy is quite expensive.

Wind energy is what the name implies - the use of wind to generate electricity. Wind turbines are used, and they convert kinetic energy into mechanical power, which can be turned into electricity. The fuel for this type of energy production is free, and wind turbines occupy a fairly small area, so the land can also be preserved. However, wind turbines are noisy and are a variable resource, and wind is not always guaranteed.

Geothermal energy is heat collected from the earth by heat pumps. Geothermal energy is efficient, scalable for individual homes, and reliable. However, the operation of heat pumps require an input of energy, large scale plants can be damaging to Earth’s surface, and these plants need to be built in specific locations.

Hydroelectric power is when water is used to turn a turbine, which generates electricity. This form of generating energy is renewable and fairly reliable, and the area behind the dam of a hydroelectric power plant can be used for recreational activities. However, a dam can cause a buildup of sediments and nutrients, harming the wildlife of the river. Also, in times of drought, these plants will be rendered ineffective, and these plants are quite expensive to build.

Clearly, we’ve come up with some viable sources of renewable energy, but all of these have some sort of downside - a common theme being that sometimes these sources of energy are not as reliable as coal. Additionally, a lot of our current infrastructure revolves on the usage of coal for power, so modifications may be cost and time intensive. However, current sources of alternative energy are being improved constantly, and the usages of all of the types of energy I talked about are on the rise.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Algalita POPS Conference 2017

Just last week, I had the pleasure of attending a conference in Dana Point - the POPS Conference, hosted by Algalita. This conference is dedicated to bringing together youth leaders in order to come up with a solution to the grave problem that is plastic pollution.

Before I talk about the conference itself, I’d like to take a moment to talk about plastic pollution. In America alone, the average person throws away a whopping 185 pounds of plastic per year, and ocean plastic is everywhere. It is not only found in great big patches but also frozen in Arctic ice or marine animals and sea birds. In some areas, the majority of marine organisms will even be found with some sort of plastic in their systems. Clearly, this is a problem of great magnitude.

This is where Algalita (and all of the various organizations that helped to make this conference happen) come in. Algalita hosted this conference for youth leaders, as they believe that young people have the greatest capacity to make a change, and while listening to some of my peers present, I knew for sure that they were right. It was simply astounding to hear people - people my age or even younger, coming from all around the world -  talk about all the things they had done to reduce plastic pollution in their respective communities. It was also quite wonderful to meet representatives and founder of various organizations dedicated to this cause - I got to sit and talk with the founders of both 5 Gyres and the Plastic Pollution Coalition. I have actually been following 5 Gyres since I was about 11, so getting to meet the founders and listening to their stories was an amazing experience. Besides getting to meet and interact with empowered, driven people, we also received helpful advice from experts, about various things such as branding, elevator pitches, and campaigns.

I highly encourage you to check out the websites of these organizations, and if you are within the age range of 11-18 years old, I would highly encourage applying for the next youth summit.

Algalita's website:
5 Gyre's website:
Plastic Pollution Coalition's website:

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Three Types of Photosynthesis

We’ve all probably heard about photosynthesis - the process that plants use to convert water, carbon dioxide, and light energy into oxygen and sugar. However, it’s less well known that there are actually three types of photosynthesis - C3, C4, and CAM. Before we get into the significance of this, let’s talk about each of these types of photosynthesis individually.

Most of the plants you encounter on a daily basis are most likely C3 photosynthetic plants - about 85% of plants, actually. Some plants that use this type of photosynthesis are soybeans, trees, wheat, and most importantly rice (we’ll talk about why this is significant in a bit).  C3 photosynthetic plants are plants that only use the Calvin Cycle for fixing carbon dioxide from the air (for reference, the Calvin Cycle includes the series of reactions in photosynthesis that do not require light to occur). Plants that use this kind of photosynthesis have no way of preventing photorespiration - a wasteful process that occurs when oxygen is fixed instead of carbon dioxide. This process is wasteful and inefficient, as the plant then needs to expend more energy and resources to dispel the oxygen.

CAM photosynthesis has evolved to occur in many plants that grow in extremely dry conditions. In this type of photosynthesis, the reactions that take in the Calvin Cycle are separated by time (rather than location). Part of these reactions occur during the day, and the rest occur at night. This division saves energy and water - essential for plants growing in dry conditions, such as cacti or pineapples.

Finally, let’s address C4 photosynthesis. Here, the reactions that take place in the Calvin Cycle are physically separate. This helps minimize photorespiration greatly, and as a result, makes the plant more efficient than plants that use C3 photosynthesis. Some plants that use C4 photosynthesis are corn and sugarcane.

C4 photosynthesis is a topic of interest for many scientists, because of its efficiency. Right now, many researchers are looking for ways to turn rice (a C3 photosynthetic plant) into a C4 photosynthetic plant, as this would increase efficiency and productivity. Rice is such a major and integral crop, and increasing its productivity would mean a greater food supply. People are currently looking into the things that make C4 photosynthesis unique, and trying to genetically modify rice (in particular) to operate using this type of photosynthesis.

One foundation that is doing a great deal of research of this nature is the International Rice Research Institute. You can check out their work here.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Omar's Dream Run

Earlier today, I volunteered at the 2016 Omar’s Dream Run, doing videography. It was cold and rainy, but that did not dampen the spirits of the organizers or the runners.

Omar is described on the organization’s website as “the happiest patient in the bone marrow transplant unit at [Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital].” Because Omar stayed connected with his friends and teachers, he was able to be a part of the classroom. Omar lost his battle with cancer in April of 2012, but he has clearly inspired others.

Omar’s Dream Foundation strives to allow hospitalized children to continue with their education, by connecting them to their teachers and classmates. This had worked for Omar, and now it is being delivered to others. Not only does this ensure that children can still continue to learn, it also reduces their feelings of being isolated from the rest of the world. Fighting an illness is hard enough, but being away from your environment often makes it worse, and here is where the foundation comes in. They provide the student and the educator with the necessary equipment and software (which includes a tablet, laptop, video conferencing, as well as a means of file sharing). Not only does this continued connectivity provide emotional stability to children going through tough times, it actually also helps with their development. Studies show that continued social isolation, especially in children who are still developing, can lead to long term low self esteem and negative self image, see here, here, and here.

The run today was the fourth annual Omar’s Dream Run, and was held in Hellyer Park in San Jose. This is the main fundraising event for the foundation. Runners could participate in either a 5K or a 10K run. Despite the rainy weather, around 75 people showed up for the 10K run, and around 300 people participated in the 5K run. The incessant rain did keep a few people away, as over 400 people had registered. The run itself was very well organized - there were even doctors on hand -  and there were no hiccups. Their model from fundraising to deployment of services is now well established in San Jose, and they are looking to branch out.

Please also check out their Facebook page here. Omar’s dream lives on.