This final entry in the series on interesting moments in science and technology features reflections from Paul Showler, Gerrit Scheepers, and Christy Tidwell on a wide range of topics: emotion detection technology, a method to provide easier access to clean water, and a scheme to farm hippos in the US. (For more thoughts on interesting science and technology from STS faculty, see previous posts on technologies of communication and technologies of destruction.)
By Louise Swanson
Louise is majoring in Science, Technology, and Society with a minor in Environmental Science. She plans on working with the parks system or in museum work.
When I was growing up, I spent my weekends going to ghost town sites around the Black Hills with my father. Each time we went to Spokane we made guesses as to whether or not the old community center that Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke at would have collapsed (a couple of years ago it did) or if the Two-Bit Mill would still be standing (about 10 years ago it was bulldozed into a nearby ravine to better allow for nature to return to the area). Meanwhile, I watched as the Gordon Stockade was refurbished and preserved for visitors to come and see where the Gordon Party lived while in the Black Hills.
In college I have taken both history and environmental science classes and worked for a year at The Journey Museum, and I have only become more curious about how the decision to preserve some things and not others is made and how agencies decide whether to prioritize the environment or the history of an area. The optimist in me also hopes that maybe sometimes we don’t have to choose. Maybe, sometimes there is a way that environmental conservation and historic preservation are linked.
By John Dreyer
When I was in my early teens I bought Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise. This book was just a technical manual for Star Trek and, as a young fan, I was pretty happy. One aspect the authors addressed was eating on board a future starship using a replicator. Essentially a 3D food printer, the replicator could make anything you desired. The author even included a menu of choice dishes. This book is only one place where food in science fiction is addressed. From the cornbread in Aliens to the generic-looking dinner in 2001: A Space Odyssey that David Bowmen grabs while it’s still too hot, food has had a place in storytelling.
But what about real space exploration? Do astronauts get Yankee Pot Roast? Space food has had a long developmental arc, often supplemented by industry, that seeks to put nutritious and tasty food at the fingertips of astronauts and, later, consumers.
The first food in space was carried by Yuri Gagarin. His meal was two tubes of pureed meat and a tube of chocolate sauce. For the designers of the meal, there was a question if he could actually eat and digest in zero gravity. In his first American orbital flight, John Glenn consumed a tube of applesauce, which he claimed to have enjoyed. Tube foods are not exactly appetizing, and nutrition in space was still in its infancy. There were also questions of taste and texture. As NASA began to work towards Apollo and the moon landing, it was realized that better food was necessary.
By Olivia Burgess
When you think about the development of science, you might envision a laboratory, but you probably don’t think of a bar, a hotel lobby, or a boat. However, our recent guest speaker, Dr. Kathleen Sheppard, argues that the informal spaces where scientists meet to discuss their work, network, and simply relax are just as important if not more important than formal sites like labs, museums, and universities.
Dr. Sheppard is an Egyptologist and historian of science who specializes in late 19th-century and early 20th-century British and American Egyptology. During her visit from Nov 15th-16th, 2021, she met with the students in STS 201: Introduction to Science, Society, & Society, gave a Brown Bag presentation, and topped off her visit with a STEAM Café talk.
Frank Van Nuys is Professor of History and will be the interim Department Head for Humanities & Social Sciences in Spring 2022.
What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?
I would say that I am a generalist in the history of the American West and not particularly comfortable claiming expertise in any area within that field. I am more confident saying that I am conversant in a variety of areas, including the West, of course, but also environmental history. The nature of my job here at Mines accommodates being both a generalist and having some latitude to develop and teach courses that interest me. Of late, in addition to the surveys in American history and Western Civilization, I have been teaching Westward Expansion of the U.S. and Environmental History of the U.S.
My focus earlier in my academic career was on race and immigration, so, for instance, I did my Master’s thesis on so-called alien land laws in California, which were designed to prevent Japanese immigrants from owning or leasing agricultural land in the early 20th century. My first book, Americanizing the West: Race, Immigrants, and Citizenship, 1890-1930, looked at the Western part of the nation as an important driver in immigration restriction and the Americanization programs of the 1910s and 1920s.
After that, my fascination with wildlife issues and the attraction of a deeper engagement with environmental history shifted my focus. Controversies over mountain lions re-populating the Black Hills about fifteen years ago provided the impetus for my second book, Varmints and Victims: Predator Control in the American West, which was published in 2015.
On Tuesday, October 19, from 6-7 pm (Mountain time), Erica Haugtvedt (Assistant Professor of Humanities) and Duana Abata (Professor of Mechanical Engineering) will present as part of the STEAM Café series. This free presentation will take place at Hay Camp Brewing Company in downtown Rapid City (601 Kansas City St.) and will also be available to watch via livestream on Zoom. The talk will also be posted to the SD Mines YouTube channel and the SD Mines Facebook page after the event.
Long before today’s pervasive digital computers, the first computer programmer was arguably Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron). An exceptional mathematician, she captured the essence of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, which was conceptualized by Babbage but was not constructed in his lifetime. In 1843, she wrote an algorithm to accompany Babbage’s Engine. Her contribution to calculate Bernoulli numbers with the Analytical Engine has since been successfully translated, with minor changes, to the C++ programming language. Dr. Erica Haugtvedt and Dr. Duane Abata will discuss how this extraordinary Victorian woman achieved her insights through translating between languages, people, disciplines, and between the imaginary and the real.
By Christy Tidwell
National Hispanic Heritage Month spans September 15 to October 15 and is a time to, as the official Library of Congress website says, celebrate “the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” This includes important historical and contemporary contributions to STEM fields, despite the ongoing underrepresentation of Hispanic people within those fields.
Is it Hispanic or Latino or…?
The language used to refer to people “whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America” is complicated. Not all people included in this list would call themselves Hispanic, despite the name given to the month. Some prefer Latinx (or Latino/a or Latine), some prefer Chicano (or Chicana or Chicanx), and some prefer a more specific reference to their families’ nationality (e.g., Mexican American, Cuban American). And none of this addresses the question of indigeneity and the distinctions between histories of Indigenous peoples and colonizers in these regions. Nevertheless, given the lack of a consistent umbrella term and the name of the month, I will use the term Hispanic generally and will use other terms for individuals if they identify themselves in another way. (For more on this issue, see Vanessa Romo’s NPR piece “Yes, We’re Calling It Hispanic Heritage Month And We Know It Makes Some of You Cringe.”)
Running the Numbers
South Dakota Mines’ Hispanic student population has hovered around 5% of the total student population for the last 5 years, meaning that there have been approximately 120-140 Hispanic students enrolled in each of those years. This is not a high proportion of the overall student body, but Hispanic students still represent the largest group of students of color at Mines. (If you are a Hispanic student at Mines or if you’re interested in supporting Hispanic students at Mines, you can check out the Mines chapter of Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).)
By Kayla Pritchard
Prostitution (i.e., the sale/purchase of sexual services) existed in Deadwood, South Dakota, from 1876 until 1980, when the last brothel was raided by the FBI. Many of the citizens fought (unsuccessfully) to keep the brothels, seeing them as an important part of their history and the women as a valuable part of the community. Thus, 124 years of technically illegal prostitution ended in Deadwood, a town that today highly values its “wild west” past. In the fall of 2020, the Deadwood Historical Society opened The Brothel – Deadwood, a museum offering tours and interpretation, in one of the original brothels. Given my academic background, I was consulted to comment on prostitution when the museum was being constructed. Parts of my interview play on loop, along with the interviews of others, in an alcove in the museum.
Just down the road in Rapid City, I gave a talk on prostitution on August 17th for STEAM Café (that’s science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), a series that represents a partnership between South Dakota Mines and Hay Camp Brewing, offering a talk on the third Thursday of each month. Prostitution and, more broadly, sex work are often viewed as unsavory, immoral, and only something that women do out of desperation. These stereotypes are culturally pervasive, offering an overly simplified view of sex work and sex workers. Furthermore, narratives painting sex work as either empowering or exploitative also miss the point about larger systemic forces at work in the “choice” whether or not to engage in sex work. Ultimately what is missing is a sociological lens that challenges us to look beyond individuals and focus on the structures and systems around them.
By Christy Tidwell and Matthew Bumbach
After Matthew Bumbach’s recent Brown Bag presentation on the history of bluegrass, I found myself thinking about the role of technology in the genre. I’ve long listened to bluegrass myself but have largely taken the technologies involved for granted. I wondered what we can learn about technology by thinking about its role in the arts and also what we can learn about bluegrass specifically by paying attention to its relationship to technology. To find out more, I invited him to discuss the topic.
Christy Tidwell: For any readers who may not be familiar with bluegrass, let’s quickly provide some basic information. How would you define bluegrass in just a couple of sentences? And what is the basic history of the genre?
Matthew Bumbach: Bluegrass music emerged from old time music and hillbilly string bands from the historically isolated region of Appalachia. The primary instruments in the genre are fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar, upright bass, and singers. Bluegrass emerged, as a genre, during the 1940s and 1950s and owes a lot of its character to the unique playing and singing of Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, and Earl Scruggs.
CT: With that established, I’d like to focus more specifically on the relationship between bluegrass and technology. People often tend to think about technology as high-tech or futuristic, and bluegrass is not seen as either of those things. Historically speaking, what technologies were important for the creation and dissemination of bluegrass music?
MB: That is an excellent question and one that we don’t often discuss when we talk about this genre. Bluegrass could not have developed the way it did without the microphone. In the early days of bluegrass, the entire band would gather around a single microphone in both recording and live performance applications. They would create blend and balance through the use of proximity to the microphone.
The microphone was first invented and introduced to the public in 1877 by Emile Berliner, but it would be decades before we had a microphone that was effective enough to do what the pioneers of bluegrass needed. E.C. Wente invented the condenser microphone (or capacitor microphone) in 1916, a much more sensitive microphone than the earliest moving coil mics from the previous century. It took several more decades for condenser microphones to be study and cheap enough for use by the general public.
I mention the microphone as an indispensable technological advancement in the development of bluegrass music because bluegrass was professional music played by professional musicians. Unlike old time and hillbilly music that was played in churches, porches, and barns, bluegrass music developed in part because it could be played live for large audiences. Virtuosic professional musicians toured the country spreading these new sounds. Furthermore, bluegrass spread through recordings and radio. None of this could have happened without the microphone.
By Frank Van Nuys
In 1976 my eighth-grade science teacher gave us an assignment that seems as if it possibly aligned with that year’s Earth Day activities. I recall this primarily because of its embarrassing results. We were told to dig up some soil from our family’s yard and bring it to school to develop our own little in-door plot for growing some plant or other. Being part of the only family in southwestern Ohio not possessed of an old coffee can or some other suitable container, I dutifully filled a black plastic lawn bag with what seemed like a lot of dirt and stuffed that in a gym bag. Managing to lug my Earth Day “earth” on to the school bus, I stuffed the gym bag in my locker. When the time came for science class, I opened the locker and discovered that the plastic bag had ruptured. I suppose I somehow wrestled my embarrassingly overflowing bag of dirt into class and eventually grew something, but that sickening demoralization of middle-school level humiliation was all that really stuck with me.
My hapless effort at dirt transplantation offers a metaphor of sorts for the Earth Day phenomenon. Well-intentioned individual efforts on behalf of noble aspirations to better the planet, even if more successful than mine, amount to relatively small achievements. The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, was certainly a masterstroke in terms of generating citizen engagement and marketing an increasingly popular sentiment into a mass movement spectacle. It can even be argued that bipartisan passage of significant federal environmental legislation, such as the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, fed on momentum provided by Earth Day. Additional impacts included a surge in environmental organization memberships during the 1970s and growing influence of such organizations in legal actions against corporations and government agencies.