Archive for November 25th, 2013

November 25, 2013

Innovations for America’s Electricity Grid: Talk with the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering Ambassadors

by Melissa Harding

Holiday lights and cell phones need it. So do digital music, movies, games, and toys. Electricity is essential to modern life – at home, at work and at play. But the electricity grid that keeps our world running smoothly is based on century-old technology that is increasingly ill suited to modern needs. Join us as two leading grid engineers talk about innovations being developed here in Pittsburgh to retool the grid for the 21st century.

Phipps Winter Lights - Paul g Weigman

WHO: National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering Science & Engineering Ambassadors

WHAT: Innovations for America’s Electricity Grid – An Informal Conversation. Join us for complimentary drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and a conversation with leading Pittsburgh energy experts.

Panelists: Greg Reed and Emmanuel Taylor, Swanson School of Engineering, University of Pittsburgh

WHEN: Friday, December 13, 2013, 6:00 PM

WHERE: Phipps Conservatory – Center for Sustainable Landscapes – Classroom & Atrium (1st Floor)

Free and open to the public. (Admission to the gardens not included.)

This event is part of the Science & Engineering Ambassadors program – an activity of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) – to connect opinion leaders with local experts, building relationships at the community level on the topic of energy. The NAS and NAE are private, non-profit societies of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the public good.

Space is limited; RSVP required.

RSVP or send inquiries to: Sam Taylor, Director, Science & Engineering Ambassadors,

NOTE: If you have questions about the electricity grid and our electricity supply that you would like to be addressed in this presentation, please email them in advance to

For additional background information, watch Greg and Emmanuel’s talk at TEDxPittsburgh.

The above photo was taken by Paul g. Weigman.

November 25, 2013

Connecting to Nature Through Poetry: Robert Hass

by Melissa Harding


Connecting to Nature Through Poetry is a segment of the blog featuring poets who inspire their readers to establish strong connections to nature and community. An appreciation of poetry and art is connected to achievement in science and success in adult life; however, there is no need to be an expert on poetry to enjoy it. Poetry is for everyone.  As Plato once said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history”.  

Poetry need supporters, people to fight for it as an important part of society. Poetry needs Robert Hass. As a poet, he is wonderful at translating the natural world into a personal history, combining descriptions of his native California countryside with autobiographical narrative. However, some of Hass’s best work may arguably be his advocacy for poetry. From 1995-1997, Hass served as the United States Poet Laureate and poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, transforming the position from one that was largely ceremonial to one that is now a public advocate for poets and their work. During his tenure as Poet Laureate, Hass visited businesses, convincing them to support poetry contests for school kids and spoke with civic groups, trying to inform them about the importance of poetry as an art. He is widely credited with being the most active poet laureate up to that time and set a high bar for those who followed.

Hass’s poems use the natural world as a backdrop for the stories he has to tell. His descriptions are vivid and beautiful, whether they are a small part of a poem or the majority of it’s content. Not typically considered a “nature poet”, Hass uses the natural world for his own purposes, different within each poem.

The Woods in New Jersey

Where there was only grey, and brownish grey,
And greyish brown against the white
Of fallen snow at twilight in the winter woods,

Now an uncanny flamelike thing, black
and sulphur-yellow, as if it were dreamed by Audubon,
Is turned upside down in a delicate cascade

Of new leaves, feeding on whatever mites
Or small white spiders haunt underleafs at stem end,
A magnolia warbler, to give the thing a name.

The other name we give this overmuch of appetite
The beauty unconscious of itself is life.
And that that kept the mind becalmed all winter? –

The more austere and abstract rhythm of the trunks,
Vertical music the cold makes visible,
That holds the whole thing up and gives it form,

or strength – call that the law. It’s made,
whatever we like to think, more of interests
than of reasons, trees reaching each their own way

for light, to make the sort of order that there is.
And what of those deer treading through the woods
In a late snowfall and silent as the snow?

Look: they move among the winter trees, so much
the color of the trees, they hardly seem to move.

Hass’s poems are conversational, as they describe his world in detail, like he is telling the reader a story at a party. He also manages to fill each one with the wisdom of someone who has “been there” before, whether or not that was a good thing. He deftly weaves his personal experience with the world in which it happens; nature is part of his life story. He writes both grand, detailed nature scenes and descriptions of the tiniest things that catch the eye – all within the context of a larger story.


A man talking to his ex-wife on the phone.
He has loved her voice and listens with attention
to every modulation of its tone. Knowing
it intimately. Not knowing what he wants
from the sound of it, from the rendered civility.
He studies, out the window, the seed shapes
of the broken pods of ornamental trees.
The kind that grow in everyone’s garden, that no one
but horticulturalists can name. Four arched chambers
of pale green, tiny vegetal proscenium arches,
a pair of black tapering seeds bedded in each chamber,
A wish geometry, miniature, Indian or Persian,
lovers or gods in their apartments. Outside, white,
patient animals, and tangled vines, and rain.

Read a full biography of Robert Hass and find selected poems here. To read commentaries by other poets on some of their favorite Hass poems, check out this great link.

To read about using poetry to connect children to nature, check out our blog post.

Why is poetry important to science education? Find out here.

The above photo was taken by Melissa Harding.


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