Science in Ten-Hundred Words: The “Up-Goer 5” Challenge

We had a lot of fun with the Upgoer Five activity and wrote some great paragraphs. We struggled with certain concepts such as plankton and the biological pump, but also deconstructed our research to its essential components, for example: How to describe a coral without using the word coral? It’s a lot of small animals that live together on rocks and don’t move around, and they make the rocks they live on. We also found powerful metaphors, like the idea of a book to convey the idea of DNA, or referring to lights in a house as electricity. This exercise helped us start our communication from where our audience is coming from, rather than what is easiest for us.

Although in some instances the Upgoer Five constraints produce awkward and sometimes confusing wording such as in describing molecules, the exercise is not meant to be taken literally. Starting with these principles and working in words like coral or DNA can lead to effective explanations. One simple way to develop this further would be to pair scientists with school children, possibly at the WHOI Exhibit Center, and ask them to illustrate our research as described in these simple terms. We could compile the text and illustrations into a book.

Below are several entertaining samples from JP Students who attended.  Check out the website that inspired this activity and give it a try!

Li Ling Hamady:
“I study animals that have big teeth and live and breathe in the largest bodies of water. By looking at the number of rings in their backs and the types of the small pieces of stuff the rings are made of, I can figure out their ages and where they go and what types of foods they eat. This is important to know because there are not that many of these animals left and we need to know these things to keep them safe from dying out.”

Katie Pitz:
“I study tiny living things in the water that need light to grow. There are many types of these small things and some of them make stuff that can hurt people. I want to know why they make this stuff and if it changes because of how hot or cold they are or what food they have. I also want to know what makes them become greater in number. Inside of each of these tiny things is a book telling the thing what to do. I read this book and see how it’s different between different kinds of tiny things. Then I can see why some of these living things make more stuff that hurts people than others.”

Alexis Fischer:
“I study little red animals that live in large bodies of water. They are so small, you can’t see them with your eyes! These animals eat the light from sun and tiny pieces of broken food they find in water. At different times of the year, a very small group of these animals become many in a very short time so the water turns red. The water can be red for only 1 month. But during most of the year, they lie at the bottom of these large bodies of water and do not move or eat. I am interested in why at different times of year these animals grow to a large number and then become a small number so quickly.”

Sarah Rosengard:
“I follow hard little pieces of dead life as they move through a body of water, from top to bottom. I am interested in what happens to these pieces as they move. Some things cause them to move faster towards the bottom. Other things cause them to slow down or never make it to the bottom at all. People who study air and land and water think that if more pieces get to the bottom of these bodies of water, the air will get cooler through time. If fewer pieces get to the bottom, the air will get warmer. So if these bodies of water and the life in them are changing, the air that we live in will change too.”

Alice Alpert:
“I study how the way water in the largest body of water moves can change when other things like wind and how hot or cold it is change too. These can change quickly in a year, or slowly in a hundred years. They can change on their own or they can change because of how humans are changing the air and the water. I am interested in if the water and the wind were different in the past, and how and why they might be changing now, either on their own or because of humans. The way I can figure this out is because small animals that live on big rocks under the water can feel these changes. The hard bodies of the dead animals show what the water was like when they were living. I can read the hard bodies like a book to see what the water was like in the past.This is important because if the way the water moves is changing, it can be a problem for the small animals that I study and for many people around the world.”

Emily Tursack:
“I study how to put water into rocks by using a lot of force and by making the rocks really hot. When I finally get the water into the rocks, I then look at how the water changes the rocks. Once I understand the changes that happen, I try to look at rocks at the bottom of large bodies of water to see how much water is in those rocks. This is important because it helps our understanding of how the world changes under our feet.”

Guy Evans
“The world has good drinking water and bad drinking water. Most water is bad drinking water, which comes together in one place. There is a lot of water, so it gets really deep when you put it all together. It’s sort of like a great big cup made of rock. The top part of the water is warm and bright because of the sun, but as you go down, it gets darker and very, very cold. It’s funny, because the top part of the rock is also very cold, but as you go down it gets very, very hot (like hell fire!).
I study what happens when the cold water goes into the hot rock, because what happens next is totally amazing! When the cold water goes down into the really hot rock, the water gets really, really hot too and comes up out of the rock. Except, now it looks black, almost as if it had been burned by the hell fire and were jumping back out as fast as it can! Sometimes it comes up so fast, it looks like the water is falling up out of the rock.
Anyway, the hot, black water goes back into the really cold water and makes really strange-looking rocks appear very quickly where you didn’t see them before. These strange-looking rocks are pretty to look at, but actually smell really bad if you take them out of the water and into the air. You might even say they smell like rocks from hell. Well, it might be hell for us, because we can’t live there, but lots of animals actually call these places home. The hot, black water coming out of the rock gives the animals life, even without ever seeing the sun. These places are so amazing that it’s hard to imagine just how animals live there, but it’s important because we want to understand how things live in strange places and knowing this can even help us to live better too. So, I study these really strange, smell-like-hell rocks, because these rocks can tell us a lot about the place in which the animals live.”