October 25, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘To Study Blinking, a Scientist Needed a Literal Bird’s Eye View’

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Then, choose one of your questions and consider how you might find out the answer. Make a list of the types of publications you could consult, experts you might interview or experiments you could conduct to find out more about your topic.

If you have more time …

Want an additional challenge? Use your question as the basis for an entry to our Second Annual STEM Writing Contest, in which we challenge students to choose an issue or question in science, technology, engineering, math or health, and then write an engaging 500-word explanation of it. The contest runs from Jan. 19 to March 2.

To help inspire you, read the excerpt below from a winning essay in the 2020 student contest, “In the Blink of an Eye” by Rivka Shields:

Imagine walking into a theater to watch a movie. While it is playing, the screen goes blank every ten seconds. Wouldn’t it ruin the movie? Humans blink about six times per minute, a blink every 10 seconds. Why do we not notice the world going black every time our eyelids close?

Blinking, also known as the cornea reflex, is our brains’ automatic response when anything comes too near our eyes that could potentially be damaging. Our eyelids have tear film, made from fluids and oils, on them. Blinking spreads those over the outer eye, cleaning and moisturizing it. This is essential, or the eyes will dry out. In fact, it is so important that for patients with nerve damage that prevents them from closing their eyelids, doctors are sewing small gold weights into their eyelids so they will close easier to lubricate the eye. The question still remains, though. Why don’t we notice that the world is going black for about 400 milliseconds, the average blinking time?

What do you notice about the essay? How does the writer explain the science of blinking in a clear and engaging way? What kind of language does she use to draw us in as readers? What details make the complex process of blinking visual, tactile or understandable? How does she use questions to draw us in further? How does the essay make the familiar process of blinking seem unfamiliar and fresh?

Now it’s your turn! Research one of the questions you brainstormed above and write your own 500-word essay explaining it to readers. For more inspiration, you can find essays from all of the winners of the 2020 contest here that explore topics including jalapeños, chewing gum, cancer treatments and black holes.

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