Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Large Centipede

The other morning as I was in the bathroom getting ready for work my wife comes in all freaked out that there's some huge bug on the wall just above the head of the bed.  To give her a little credit, it was a BIG bug.  It was a centipede of some kind.  Not exactly sure what it was, but they pop up in the house every now and then.  I searched around on the web for pictures, but this was the closest picture I could find.

The one on our wall was big enough that I determined a single Kleenex wasn't good enough.  Instead, I grabbed a larger hand towel and used two hands to remove it from the wall.  

The funniest part of this comes from my 6 year old daughter.  Both of my daughters were staring at this centipede and standing very calmly in the room.  They had no fear at all, although my 2 year old kept saying "Ewwwwww!".  My 6 year old then proceeds to tell us that this is not an insect because insects only have 6 legs and it's not a spider because spiders only have 8 legs and this has more than 8 legs.  There she is again, sharing her knowledge with us.  Such a proud Mommy/Daddy moment!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Easter Science

Easter Sunday came and went a few weeks ago.  If you're like many families with kids, you probably hid Easter eggs around the house for your kids to search for in the morning.  If you're like me, you hid too many eggs and your kids didn't find all of them and neither could you!  We were left with 2 un-found eggs.  My kids couldn't find them.  I couldn't find them.  Who knows where they went?!?!  A couple of days later I found one of them hidden behind a couple of books.  It wasn't hidden that well and was fairly obvious to see.  Not sure why it took a couple of days to find.  The second missing egg is still missing 3-4 weeks later.  Fortunately it is a plastic egg with candy or coins inside.  I figure we'll eventually find it, but for now I have no clue where it is at.

Easter is also an excellent time to do a bit of science in the terms of coloring hard boiled eggs.

Coloring eggs is a blast for kids (at least my kids), and it's a good opportunity to explain why the water changes color and why the eggs become colored.  Even if you don't know much about the science of colors, you probably know the basics.  For example, red + blue = purple, blue + yellow = green, etc.  Regardless of the depth of your knowledge, your kids will appreciate the knowledge that you have available to share.  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

No more Space Books

My daughter has officially checked out all of the space/astronomy related books at her school's library.  It was a good 3 month run, but she says there are no more.  I was curious to see which book she would get this week.  To replace her normal astronomy book, she picked out a late 1970's Garfield book.  Not one of the Garfield comic books, but an encyclopedia of sorts book about cats.

The funny thing about this book is it is the very same Garfield book that I remember reading as a kid!  Looking at some of the pictures and articles about cats brought back memories from when I was a kid.  It's cool to see her checking out a book that I checked out when I was near her age!

Friday, April 26, 2013


This past week my 6 year old learned about ants at school.  She was very excited to tell both my wife and I that there are more ants than any other animal/species on Earth.  At the time it wasn't obvious to me that this was true, but it made sense.  There are a lot of ants in the world.  I was just excited that she was excited to share her knowledge with us!

I looked this up a few days later to verify that ants are indeed the most populated species on Earth.  This is sort of true.  There are a lot of ants, but over 10,000 different species of ants.  In fact, if you add up the mass of all ants on Earth, it equals the mass of all humans on Earth!  Pretty remarkable considering that a single ant is very tiny compared to a human.  Looking through several web sources I found a 1990 study stating:

"The estimated 10,000 trillion individual ants alive at any one time weigh about as much as all human beings combined."

But I also found another study from the 1980's that said that there are 27 times more termites than ants on Earth.  Unfortunately I couldn't find a solid answer to the most populated animal/species on Earth, but the point is that humans are far from having the largest number of any one animal/species on Earth.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


As part of a Rube Goldberg project (expect a future post on this), one group of students in my high school physics class made a volcano base out of clay.  They had no need for the volcano base after completing the project, so I asked if I could have it.  Being the nice students they are, they let me have it!  Super cool!

I have yet to build a homemade volcano with my kids, but it is on my summer to-do list.  Now I have a base that I can use.  There are several ways to make a homemade volcano, but they usually involve baking soda and vinegar.  Food coloring can be used to make the eruption look more like lava.

We haven't done this yet, so no videos or pictures to post, but I'll put them up later this spring/summer.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Summer Science Programs

With summer quickly approaching, now is the time to sign your kids up for a summer science program or two.  I usually teach one each summer and the kids have a blast!  Summer science programs are a great way to keep your kids involved in science while school is out.  There are many things you can do as a parent, but official science programs can extend that learning past what a typical non-science parent can achieve.  Granted, most programs will have a sign-up fee, but trust me, it is well worth the cost.

If you're not sure where to begin, start by contacting or checking out the web page of nearby museums, schools, libraries, and colleges.  If that isn't successful, do a Google search for science programs and science camps in your area.  I'd be surprised if you didn't find something.

If for some reason that doesn't find you anything, look for science experiments you can do on your own with your child(ren).  A great site to begin is Steve Spangler Science Experiments..

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Importance of the Decimal Point

The decimal point plays a very important role in written math or written prices.  I'm adding this to the list of things my daughters must know before moving out of the house when they are older.  The other day we drove by a gas station that had an interesting price for hot dogs on it.  We were on our way to a restaurant a a block or two away, so when we got out of the car I took a picture with my cell phone.  The picture below isn't great, but it's the best I could do with my phone from that distance.

Yeah, it's a bit blurry, but if you can't pick it out it says "BALLPARK FRANKS 2 for $222".

Okay, I'm always up for a good ball park frank, but there's a limit to what I'm willing to pay for 1 or 2.  $222 is a bit beyond that limit!  But I suppose it's a deal.  One hot dog by itself is probably $169.  So that second hot dog is considerably reduced in price!

Now my wife looks at me and tells me that obviously it means 2/$2.22.  Well, I suppose, but without that decimal point, those two hot dogs are being advertised at $222!!!

Interestingly enough, on our way home we passed another gas station selling 2 hot dogs for $2.  Wow!  A full $220 cheaper than the first gas station!  LOL!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Rains and Worms

With spring comes rain, and on some days, lots of rain.  We recently had one of those rainy days.  Actually it was  rainy evening.  The next morning when my 6 year old and her friend opened the garage door to wait for the bus they quickly noticed the number of worms moving on the driveway.

This was a good opportunity to talk a bit about worms with my daughter.  Afterwards I did a bit of research.  I wasn't quite sure why worms came out during the rain.  I've heard that it is to avoid drowning, but that seemed like a potential misconception to me.  Turns out I was right.  Here's a quote I pulled from an apparent reputable web source.

"Dr. Dennis Linden, Cindy Hale, and other worm experts say that worms do NOT surface to avoid drowning. In fact, they come to the surface during rains (especially in the spring) so they can move overland. The temporarily wet conditions give worms a chance to move safely to new places. Since worms breathe through their skin, the skin must stay wet in order for the oxygen to pass through it. After rain or during high humidity are safe times for worms to move around without dehydrating. It is true that, without oxygen, worms will suffocate. But earthworms can survive for several weeks under water, providing there is sufficient oxygen in the water to support them."

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cool Science Dad Facebook Community

If you haven't already, consider joining my Cool Science Dad Facebook Community.  I post regular updated whenever a new blog is published as well as a few other nuggets of info related to dads, daughters, and science.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bending Water with a Comb

Electricity related science experiments are always a big hit with kids.  This past weekend I showed my daughters how to bend a stream of water with a hair comb.  This is a classic electrostatics problem.  By running a comb through hair (preferably dry), electrons are stripped from the hair and build up on the comb.  When the comb is held next to a small stream of water, the water will bend toward the comb due to an electrostatic force.  Our video of this is below.

You have to watch very carefully, but you should see the stream of water bending slightly.  This is a great experiment that introduces electricity to kids.  Electricity and the electrostatic force are all around us, but this force isn't always as apparent to our eyes as the gravitational force acting on objects.  This is just one of many examples that allows kids to see the electrostatic force in action.  As you can hear in the video, my 2 year old was very excited for it to be her turn to do the experiment!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Understanding a Voltmeter

The other day I showed my 6 year old how to use a voltmeter.  I have a simple voltmeter at home to check the voltage on batteries.  It comes in very handy because sometimes a battery operated object may stop working due to a dead battery or due to something else.  The voltmeter confirms whether it is an issue with the battery or with something else.

Our voltmeter at home

We recently used the voltmeter when checking the batteries in the fire alarms in the house.  We had a slowly beeping fire alarm the other day, signaling that the battery was low.  Before tossing the battery we checked it to make sure the battery was indeed dead.  The voltmeter showed a reading of 8.20 Volts for a 9 Volt battery.  So although the battery was still working, it was near the end of its life.  We checked the other fire alarm batteries to make sure they were all at or above 9 volts.  It's a good thing we checked this because another battery was near 8.20 Volts, meaning that it was only a matter of time before it started beeping too.

I showed my daughter how to turn the voltmeter on and how to test the voltage of the battery.  She thought it was cool to take the leads of the voltmeter and touch them to different parts of the battery!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Talking to your Kids About Fire

If you have a grade school aged child and have never discussed with him or her what to do in a fire, now is the time to do so, ASAP!  This past weekend one of our fire alarms was beeping every now and then which signals a low battery.  The fire alarms are all hard wired to the the electrical system in the house, but each contains a 9 volt battery as a backup in case the power goes out.  My 6 year old and I went to the store to buy a couple of new 9 volt batteries since we were out at home.  Then we replaced the old 9 volt battery in the fire alarm with the new one.

While doing so I had a short chat with my daughter about fire safety and explained how a fire alarm works.  We also tested the fire alarm to make sure it works and so that she understands what it sounds like and what the sound means.  Explaining fires to kids can be difficult, but it's very important to have the conversation.  By doing it at the same you check the fire alarm or replace the batteries in the fire alarm you can more easily ease into the more difficult parts of the conversation.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dreaded Cold Sores

Genetics can suck sometimes.  I had the pleasure of inheriting my Dad's tendency to get cold sores on my outer lip.  I really hope that I do not pass this along to my daughters because cold sores suck.  My frequency of cold sores is much smaller than it was when I was a kid.  When I was a kid I could count on a cold sore every couple of months.  And the cold sores I had tended to be very large cold sores.  They were never one small blister on my lip.  Instead I would develop 7-10 big blisters on my lip.  Once I had a cold sore that covered the entire right side of my lip and extended halfway down to my chin.  On another occasion I had a cold sore on my lip and then a separate one develop on my chin!  Because of that experience I NEVER itch/or scratch my face with my bare fingers.  Doing so can transfer a cold sore to somewhere else on my face.

The worst part about a cold sore is not its outward appearance which is bad enough.  The worst part is the constant tickling feeling on your lip.  Yet you can't scratch it to relieve it because that will spread the cold sore.

Fortunately medicine has improved dramatically since I was a kid.  When I was a kid there was no cure for a cold sore.  They only thing I could do was put a special lotion on it to dull the pain somewhat, but that never worked very well and it did nothing to slow the growth of blisters.  Fortunately Abreva exits today.

This tiny little tube is very expensive at around $15-20 for a tiny little tube.  The tube usually lasts about 2-3 cold sores.  Despite the large cost it is well worth it.  Abreva is the only thing that works in terms of stopping the blister growth and shortening the healing time.  With Abreva my cold sores do not grow as large and heal much more quickly.  

Again, I hope my daughters never have to live through the cold sore experiences I had and continue to have to live through, but even if they do, at least they have Abreva!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Stabbing a Potato

The other weekend my two daughters, wife, and I had a fun afternoon filled with science experiments.  The first required straws and a potato.

In this experiment we stabbed standard straws into a raw potato.  The experiment part of this comes into play when we set out to determine which style of "stab" sends the straw deepest into the potato.  We first stabbed the potato with both ends of the straw open.  We then stabbed the potato while holding a thumb over one end of the straw.  There is a notable difference in how deep the straw goes.

When the end of the straw is open, the air in the straw is pushed out the top when the other end enters the potato.  If your thumb is covering the open end, the air isn't pushed out and as a result the straw will penetrate deeper into the potato.  Why?   Because the air inside has no place to go and pushes into the potato along with the straw.

This is a fun little experiment that my daughters loved.  My two year old didn't care much about the science, but she sure had fun stabbing potatoes!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Stars Book

The astronomy related book series from my 6 year old's school library continues.  Last week we read about astronauts.  This week we are reading about stars.

I'm not sure what we're going to read about next week.  My daughter tells me that this Stars book is the last astronomy book at the library.  I'm kind of sad about this.  I really enjoyed reading and astronomy book to her every week.  I'll be curious to see what she brings home if there are no more new astronomy books.  Chemistry?  Biology?  LalaLoopsie?  :-)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Growing a Pumpkin Plant

Spring is here which means it's time to get outside and start planting!  Well, maybe not quite yet.  I usually get out and plant the garden the first week of May.  It's usually safe to plant the first week of May without the worry of getting a freeze overnight.

Several weeks ago my wife and daughter planted a pumpkin seed in a little cup of soil.  The pumpkin shoot started to grow and this week my 6 year old and I transferred it to a bigger pot.  It's still inside the house because the outside temp can still get low enough to freeze and kill the plant.

Growing plants is a great learning experience for young kids.  It teaches them responsibility because if you aren't responsible and don't water the plant and clear it of weeds, it will die.  

I'm not quite sure where this plant is going when it gets bigger.  Pumpkin plants spread throughout a garden.  I have some room in the garden, but I'm not sure where to put it in the garden.  I guess I'll figure it out in early May when I plant the rest of the garden!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Planetarium Visit

If you ever have the chance, I encourage you to take a visit to a local planetarium with your kids.  Planetariums are a great opportunity for kids to learn basic astronomy and study the motion of stars across the sky.  There are several top notch planetariums located across the country, such as the Hayden planetarium in New York and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.  Here's a top ten list of planetariums across the U.S.

Top 10 Planetariums

If you don't live near one of the top planetariums you still likely live near a smaller, university owned planetarium.  My family and I are lucky enough to live within a few miles of a smaller planetarium that does several shows throughout the year.  They do shows geared to all audiences and then separate shows geared toward kids.  The other weekend we went to one of the kid shows.  Both of my daughters were amazed by the planetarium.  My 2 year old was a bit hesitant when it got dark, but she held onto me tight and ended up liking the show.  The cuddle time with Daddy was s definite plus!

The planetarium we visited.

Many planetariums are free or cost just a couple of bucks, so take advantage of this opportunity that most likely exists within a few miles of your home.  Your kids will love it!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Looking Young

My 2 year old either thinks I look young or she's just trying to make me feel good.  Her and her sister were playing in their bedroom when I went  back to tell them that lunch was ready.  My 2 year old was playing with a Ken Barbie doll and told me that it was Daddy.  Then she kept pointing to the doll and saying "This is you Daddy!"  Here's the doll she was pointing to.

Have to admit that I've continued to be very stylish as I approach my mid-30s!  Check out my hair!  Awesome!  And those shorts?  Very stylish.  And apparently I shave my legs too!  LOL!  Kids say the funniest things!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Food Coloring Race

Did you ever hold a food coloring race as a kid?  No?  Me neither.  Through an online search I found this cool science experiment.  In this experiment you are testing to see whether food coloring disperses faster in cold water or hot water.  All you need for this is experiment is a jar/cup of cold water, a jar/cup of hot water, and food coloring.  Then place a drop or two of food coloring in each jar at the same time and watch how quickly the food coloring disperses.

As you can see from our video, the food coloring in the hot water disperses much more quickly than the food coloring in the cold water.  Despite the fact that I dropped the food coloring in the cold water just before the hot water, the hot water food coloring still wins the battle.

So why does food coloring disperse more quickly in hot water?  In hot water, the water molecules are moving around faster than the molecules in cold water.  This is related to the definition of temperature.  Hotter objects contain molecules that have more energy and move faster.  Because the molecules move faster, they carry the food coloring a greater distance more quickly.  As a result, your eye sees the food coloring spreading throughout the jar more quickly.

My 6 year old thought this was cool.  My 2 year old, not so much.  She was mad about her missing dollar as you can hear in the background of the video!  I guess I'd be mad too if I lost my money!  :-)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Encourage Daughters to Participate in Science

The other weekend I taught a 3 hour Saturday class for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders on rockets.  We shot pop out of 2 liter bottles by dropping Mentos candy into the pop.  We built water bottle rockets and then launched those rockets.  We also messed around for a few minutes with a Van deGraff generator.  It was a ton of fun!

Out of 18 students there were 16 boys and 2 girls.  Just 2 girls?  Are you kidding me?  Come on parents, stop discriminating against your daughters.  Just because it's a class on rockets and science doesn't mean it isn't for your daughter.  My daughters are too young for this class, but they would have loved to have been there building their own rockets.

If you are the parent of a daughter, step up and introduce science to her!  It's HER future that's at stake, not yours! Don't succumb her to the stereotype that girls are bad at math and science.  They are NOT!  They have the same interest and ability in math and science as boys.  They simply get turned away by gender discriminating parents and teachers.  Don't be one of those people!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Astronaut Book

My daughter recently finished the book series on planets from her school's library.  She checked the books out of order from the library based on availability.  She brought the last planet book, Jupiter, home last week.  At the time I asked her, "so what are you going to check out next since you've checked out all of the planet books?"  She shrugged her shoulders and told me "they have other space books Daddy."  Awesome, I thought!

On her latest trip to the school's library she checked out the following book.

A book on astronauts!  Very cool!  We read it the first night and she asked quite a few questions on astronauts.  I have to admit that I've been very impressed this year that she, on her own, chooses an astronomy related book each week.

If you're a parent or guardian of a young child and you haven't already, make sure you're reading to them every day.  Reading is a huge part of their learning and you'll be amazed at the questions kids ask.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

First Encyclopedia of Science

A couple of weeks ago my 6 year old came home with several Scholastic book order forms.  We always let her choose a couple of books to pick.  The smile on her face when she brings home and shows us her new books is well worth the price of the books themselves.  For her most recent book order, my daughter went a bit overboard in picking out books.  Granted, the school sent home 7 different Scholastic book order forms, all with different books in them.  We let her circle books that she was interested in.  Little did we know that she was going to circle approximately 100 books!!!  No way were we spending $300-400 on one book order!

After my daughter went to  bed my wife and I sat down to finish the book order and set out to reduce the 100+ books down to 6 or 7.  One of the books she picked out and we let her keep was the "First Encyclopedia of Science".

After flipping through the book I am very impressed with its contents.  It covers several different fields/topics of science and includes several simple experiments to complete at home.  Prior to receiving the book we had already completed a couple  of the experiments, but there are many new ones that require minimal materials. I'm definitely going to complete these with my daughters.

If you don't already have this book, I highly recommend it if you have a pre-school or early elementary school aged child.  You won't be disappointed!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Gun Safety and Children

Any parent with kids knows that there are several, often uncomfortable, talks that must be had with your kids.  There's the smoking talk, the drugs talk, the puberty talk, and the sex talk to just name a few.  The other day my wife and I had one of our first serious talks with our 6 year old.  The talk was on gun safety.  There's much talk about gun rights vs. gun control in the news lately, but that's not the reason we had the talk with her.  The son of a colleague of mine found his grandparents' gun and started walking around the house with it.  Fortunately the gun was not loaded and nothing serious happened.  But when I heard this it really made me think about what my daughter knows about guns.

So the next day my wife and I sat down with our 6 year old and asked her a few questions about guns.  We asked her if she knew what a gun was and what it does.  We then explained that although policeman and security guards have guns, guns can be very dangerous if not used correctly.  We showed her a couple of pictures of guns on the web, such as the one below, just to make sure she knows what a gun might look like.

We told her that if she sees a gun in a house or somewhere that she should leave it alone and immediately find Mommy or Daddy, or if we're not available, find a teacher at school and tell that person about the gun.  We told her that she should not touch the gun and just leave it where she sees it until she talks to someone.

She seemed to understand what we were saying, but it's an issue that we'll have to bring up with her again as she grows up.  

No matter if you are for more gun rights or for more gun control, I think that all parents can agree that teaching your kids about the effects of guns and about gun safety is very important.  If you haven't had this talk with your child, I highly recommend you consider doing it soon.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Expanding Balloon

It's a safe bet to assume that all of us know how to blow up a balloon.  You either attach the balloon to an air machine to fill it up, or fill it up with your own lungs by blowing into it.  But is it possible to blow up a balloon WITHOUT adding any air?  The answer is yes!

How is this possible?  To test this out, find an empty two liter bottle and a balloon.  Attach the balloon over the nozzle of the two liter bottle and carefully place/hold the two liter bottle in a pot of hot, but not boiling, water.  After a minute or two the balloon will begin to increase in size.

A couple of minutes later the balloon looked like this:

As you can see, the balloon has definitely grown in size, but the big question is how/why it did this.  There is some air in the balloon and bottle at the beginning of the experiment.  As the bottle is heated from the surrounding hot water, the temperature of the air inside the bottle increases.  As temperature increases, the air inside begins to expand.  Since the air has nowhere to go, it pushes on the sides of the balloon and the balloon begins to grow inside.  

As another test, take the bottle out, leaving the balloon attached and place it in the refrigerator for a minute or two.  Very quickly the air will cool down, contract, and the balloon will shrink in size.

This is another fun science experiment for kids.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

News Headline Fail!

It amazes me how often "journalists" fail at basic math.  A perfect example of this was the lead headline in a major online news provider yesterday morning.  The headline stated:

"Some salaries doubled, others rose by 98 percent!"

The headline is referring to the increase in salary of campaign staffers for the remaining couple of months of a congressperson's term following an election.  Let me ignore the politics of this and focus on the math.

It's a common misconception that if your salary doubles that your salary increases by 50%.  This is very bad math and simply not true!!!

Let's assume my salary is $100,000 (I wish!) for easy math and let's say it increases by 50%.  50% of $100,000 is $50,000.  Therefore my new salary is $150,000.

If I double my $100,000 salary, my new salary becomes $200,000.  If my $100,000 salary increases by 98%, my new salary is $198,000, a mere $2,000 less than when my salary was doubled.  Thus the headline makes no sense whatsoever.  Why point out that some double, but others increase by 98%!?!?!?!  Doubling and 98% are basically the same increase in salary.  My only conclusion is that the editor of this online news provider failed at basic math.  Not long after I read the article, the headline was replaced with a different headline that contained no numbers.  Someone must have caught the error.

How does this relate to my daughters?  As they go through school, I will continue to stress the importance of math.  Even if they enter a non-math related field, math will eventually be used in some way and it's important to not make a fool of yourself in front of potentially millions of people!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Snow Drifts

Depending on where you live you may get a lot of snow in the summer, very little snow, or no snow at all.  I live in an area where we get snow, but depending on the winter, it tends to melt within a few days.  So the number of days that my kids have available to play in the snow are limited.  When it does snow, and it is not unbearably cold outside, I like to take my kids out and give them the opportunity to play in the snow.  They only get a few of these opportunities a year and I don't like to waste them.

My 6 year old can tromp through the snow without much trouble.  My 2 year old, on the other hand, struggles mightily.  I usually spend most of the time outside carrying her around because she can barely climb through any drift much taller than her ankles!  It's all in good fun though.

Recently we got a few inches of snow and several drifts developed around our house.  There are areas that drift full of snow more often than others, but this particular drift was very weird.  It wasn't tall.  It wasn't wide, it was very narrow, but had structure to it.  See below.

Maybe it's just me, but I found this small drift to be very interesting.  It's just the way that it drifted in such a narrow form with almost now snow on either side.  And this is not the usual place where a drift forms in my yard.  I took this picture before my kids were all bundled up, because I knew once they made it out they would destroy it.  Which they did!  :-)