Media Guide- December 16, 2016

Media Guide- December 16, 2016

Grade Level



15 min - 1 hr


Media Guide

Each week we provide a rundown of the latest Science Friday stories, ready for classroom use. Last week Science Friday followed scientists from India’s space agency on their first mission to Mars,  looked at how researchers are improving color restoration in taxidermy, and discussed what makes Christmas Tree needles drop.

Also, we are looking for inspiring educators to become Science Friday Educator Collaborators! Check out the resources created by our 2016 Educator Collaborators here. You can read more information about the program and access the application here. Applications are due January 8, 2017.

We are still beta-testing this resource and would love your feedback.

A stitched together view of Mars from 2500 kilometers away. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
A stitched together view of Mars from 2500 kilometers away. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Breakthrough: Snapshots from Afar

In the second episode of Science Friday and HHMI’s series “Breakthrough: Portraits of Women in Science,” three scientists share stories about India’s first interplanetary mission—a mission to Mars. With limited time and budget to design and launch the satellite—called MOM (for Mars Orbiter Mission)—Seetha Somasundaram, Nandini Harinath, and Minal Rohit spent long hours in the clean room, followed by tense and exciting moments tracking the satellite as it entered Mars’s orbit. Their efforts helped India become the first nation to successfully reach the Red Planet on its first attempt.

Vocabulary: Mars, interplanetary, capture orbit, elliptical orbit, velocity, and sphere of influence
NGSS: ESS1.B- Earth and the Solar System, ETS1.A- Defining and Delimiting an Engineering Problem

Video Transcript


  • What were some of constraints Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) had to consider in their design of the orbiter and it’s delivery to Mars?
  • What were ISRO’s measures of success fro the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM)?
  • Why do you think ISRO chose a methane sensor as one of their main payload instruments? Why is the search for life on Mars so important?
  • What role did Earth’s gravity play in the considerations of the MOM team?
  • Why do you think it is helpful to gather a single shot of the surface of Mars in addition to closer images that must be stitched together?

Activity Suggestions

We are still developing this resource and would love your feedback.

Related Article

Breakthrough: Portraits of Women in Science

Mike Steele/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
Mike Steele/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Bringing Color Back to the Dead

In 2011, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City changed out the light bulbs illuminating the dioramas in the Hall of North American Mammals in an effort to conserve energy. That’s when museum conservators realized that their displays could use a makeover.

The new bulbs revealed one glaring problem in particular concerning the taxidermied animals, some of which had been on display since 1942: Their scientific accuracy was fading away, quite literally.

Vocabulary: taxidermy, dye, molecules, transition metal, ion, lightfast, solvent, and spectrophotometer
NGSS: PS1.A- Structures and Properties of Matter, CC1- Patterns, SEP1- Asking Questions and Defining Problems.

Access the full article here.


  • Describe the problem that led the researchers to conduct a study on the lightfastness of dyes.
  • Why do you think the researchers compare results from the accelerated aging chamber with dyed swatches exposed to museum lights? Why is this an important step in their research on lightfast dyes?
  • Why do you think that natural history museums want to retain specimen colors that are within the natural range?
  • To test how dyes weather on their own, the researchers used inert (chemically inactive) plates. In their next phase, they must test the dye on mammal hair. Why is this phase necessary before these dyes are used on the real specimens?

Activity Suggestions

  • Have students design a test for lightfastness of dyed fibers (cotton, nylon, paper, etc).  Use whatever students can bring from home. You can offer different types of dye (natural, food coloring, Easter egg, RIT, markers, etc) to treat the fibers. Have them think about how to create a measure of lightfastness or challenge students to design their own accelerated aging chamber protocol.
  • How does egg dye work, and why do eggs turn out brighter with a little vinegar? Investigate how different acids affect the brightness of egg dyes in this kitchen chemistry experiment.

We are still developing this resource and would love your feedback.

Related Segment

How to Bring Back the Dead (Animals)

Madereugeneandrew/ Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0
Madereugeneandrew/ Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0

Does Your Christmas Tree Have Good Genes?

One sign of the Christmas season is the tree lots that start popping up. Each person has ideas about what makes the perfect pine or a festive fir—a conical shape, a sharp woodsy smell, or an apartment-friendly size, perhaps. Plant pathologist Gary Chastagner is studying one trait in particular: how well trees hold onto their needles. Conifers, for example, shed their needles for various environmental reasons. Chastagner shares what trees are better at retaining their foliage, along with tips for caring for your Christmas tree.

Vocabulary: conifer, needle dropping, genetics, species, ethylene
NGSS: LS1.A: Structure and Function, LS3.B: Variation of Traits, SEP3: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Audio Excerpt “Does Your Christmas Tree Have Good Genes?” 12/16/2016. (Original Segment)

Segment Transcript


  • Should people water their Christmas tree? Why?
  • Describe the factors that can affect the rate of needle dropping in a Christmas tree.
  • How do you think needle dropping protects the tree?
  • Design a test for the fruit basket hypothesis. Will a fruit basket cause more needle loss on a Christmas tree? Be sure that you are able to isolate the effect of the fruit basket.

Activity Suggestions

  • Test the effect of ethylene on fruit ripening (and rotting) by adapting this experiment on apples. Discuss how you might test the effect of ethylene on other types of plants, like trees. Great opportunity to have students examine differences between plant types or different types of tissues in plants.
  • Look more at the effect of water on plant cells with this investigation on mushy apples.

We are still developing this resource and would love your feedback.

Related Educational Resource

Christmas Tree Combustion

Educator's Toolbox

Meet the Writer

About Xochitl Garcia

Xochitl Garcia is Science Friday’s education program assistant. She is a former teacher who loves hanging out with her fat-tailed gecko, which, despite the efforts of students, family, friends, and a fantasy football league to name it, is still only referred to as “the gecko.”

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