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Clean Energy Leaders: High School Students Mobilize for Energy Efficiency in Nevada

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Clean Energy Leaders: High School Students Mobilize for Energy Efficiency in Nevada

This week, six high school student leaders from Southern Nevada will head to Carson City, the state capital, to urge their legislators to increase Nevada’s commitment to energy efficiency. I'd like to introduce you to them because I think you'll be inspired by their leadership and optimism, and because they represent a new generation of clean energy advocates doing important, groundbreaking work all across the nation. These students have become active with the Nevada Sierra Club and the Alliance for Climate Education, and say that experience has motivated them to make a difference on a bigger level.

The Liberty High School students. Clockwise from top left: Jalen Seel, Liberty Pangilinan, Joe-Allen Nunez, Caitlin Gatchalian, Sarah Ko, and Anyssa Candelaria

"I wanted to get involved because of my newly-found passion for clean energy," said Joe-Allen Nunez, a 17-year-old junior at Liberty High School in Henderson, Nevada.

Nevada's potential to be a clean energy powerhouse is massive. In 2014 the booming solar industry in Nevada created nearly 6,000 jobs, up from 3,100 the year before. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the Silver State leads the nation in solar jobs per capita. This job growth is largely due to smart, bipartisan policy that created a space for affordable, clean energy to compete.

However, while solar is booming, Nevada's energy efficiency success has slowed significantly. The state fell from 15th to 29th on the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s recent ranking of the most efficient U.S. states.

The Liberty High School students think their state should be leading on energy efficiency—and that young people can drive that change. These young people are currently serving in ACE's yearlong Action Fellowship, focused on training powerful leaders that act on climate. ACE will be recruiting Fellows for the 2015-2016 cohort in April and May.

"When I think about young people getting involved, I think about one of my favorite quotes from Robert Kennedy, which is, 'It's perhaps well to ask what kind of nation we are and what direction we want to move in,'" said Sarah Ko, a 17-year-old Liberty student. "The direction I want to go is a better one, and young people can be the answer to that. Young people are mistaken for being 'too young' in their ideas because they lack experience; however, we can become informed, we can become passionate about issues that emerge in our society, we can become the change that our world needs."

For 14-year-old Liberty student Jalen Seel, that leadership can help stop climate change. "I wanted to get involved to help our generation as a whole, and to keep moving us toward a future with no worries of climate change," said Seel. "It's important for young people to be involved so we can share new beneficial ideas that adults may not have thought of, and to also to put our time, effort, and hard work into something we care greatly about."

When it comes to energy efficiency, these students know the huge savings it can bring to residents of the Silver State—and that means saving money, saving carbon pollution and saving billions of gallons of water as the drought continues.

For example, NV Energy customers spend more than $3 billion a year on electricity. If smart energy policies were put into place, energy bills for homeowners and businesses could be reduced by 10 to 30 percent. This is money that could go toward hiring more staff, feeding more school kids or paying off a mortgage.

A robust energy efficiency requirement could save Nevada households and businesses $3.4 billion by 2020.  And on top of all that, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) estimates that 4,680 jobs would be created.

The students are excited for their trip to visit with legislators in the State Capitol and encourage people of all ages to get involved in energy efficiency and clean energy issues. "Students should do as much as they can to conserve and preserve," said Liberty Ann Pangilinan, a 16-year-old student.

Sarah Ko says young people should start environmental clubs at their schools to work on climate issues.

16-year-old Caitlin Gatchalian encourages others to get political as well. “If other students wanted to help, I think they should send letters or emails to their legislature because we all have a voice, but how we use it is what counts,” she said.

Whatever proactive work you do on the environment and climate change, 14-year-old Anyssa Candelaria says you should keep at it. "If you start young, the habits you get will last throughout your lifetime."

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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