Saturday, June 29, 2013

First Tomatoes of the Season

My 6 year old and I had a father/daughter bonding experience the other day.  It's a tradition we started about 2 years ago and hopefully we'll continue it.  Near Mother's Day each year we plant the garden.  One of our favorite items from the garden is the tomato.  Nothing beats a fresh tomato straight out of the garden.  This is the third year in a row that my 6 year old carefully checks the plants a couple of times a week looking for the first ripe tomato.  The other day the first three appeared.

Immediately upon spotting them she asked if we could eat them.  How could I deny her request?  I wanted to eat them too!  So together, as father and daughter, we ate the first tomatoes of the season.  My 2 year old isn't to the age yet of understanding the special moment of eating the first ripe tomato of the year.  :-)  Maybe next year for her.  

Friday, June 28, 2013

What Causes a Rainbow?

Rainbows are events that we've all seen many times in our lives, but what causes a rainbow?  This is something that your kids are likely to ask you at some point if they haven't already.  Therefore, it is important to know the correct answer.

A rainbow is the result of refraction, which is the bending of a wave.  In this case, it is the bending of a light wave.  Sunlight is composed of all colors, but they mix together to give the Sun a more whitish appearance.  The Sun emits more yellow/green light so it appears a bit more yellow, but there's also red and blue light emitted.  When this light passes through water in the atmosphere, it bends.  Since light of different wavelengths (colors) bends at different angles, the "white" light separates into colors, giving you a rainbow.  

What you may not realize is that rainbows are actually circles.  In almost all cases you see half of a circle, or part of the arc of the rainbow.  If you can get high enough, say at the top of a mountain, or in an airplane, it is possible to see a full circle.  Now you have something to look for on your next plane trip!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Upper Peninsula Trip #2: The Pop Can

Here's an interesting question.  Does a pop can melt in a campfire?  This was a question that popped up while making a campfire on our recent trip to the Upper Peninsula.  My initial response at the time was no, but upon looking it up, I was wrong.  Well, I'll say that I was both right and wrong.  Melting aluminum depends on temperature.  The melting point of aluminum is about 1150 degrees Fahrenheit.  If your fire is small and doesn't have a bed of hot coals, the temperature will not reach 1150 degrees.  If your fire, however, has been going consistently for a couple of hours, you'll get a nice bed of hot coals and the temperature will be significantly higher.

There was a leftover aluminum can in the fire pit when we arrived, so we tossed it in one night and it wasn't there the next day!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Cooking Gummy Bears

I'm going to warn you right off the bat that the results of this experiment are not very interesting.  The experiment did not work the way I've read it should.  I recently read that if you put a gummy bear in the microwave for a few seconds, the gummy bear will expand and become a super gummy bear.  Cool, I thought.  My daughters would love to see this.  So we set out to do it.

First I put a few gummy bears in the microwave for 16 seconds.  Here is the result:

Um...not super gummy bears.  More like gummy bear blobs.  Maybe I microwaved them too long?  Next I put a few more gummy bears in the microwave and microwave them until I noticed a change.  After 10 or 11 seconds we had the following result:

A couple turned into blobs and the others are on their way to becoming blobs, but no super gummy bears.  In the end I we determined that we aren't doing this right, but that's science.  Sometimes experiments fail and you have to take a step back and re-analyze.  We'll re-analyze our super gummy bear experiment and try again later.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Summer Camp Fun

My 6 year old just finished a week long summer camp.  It was a morning only camp that had a broad focus that including cooking, computers, nature, etc.  She had a blast every morning and as soon as I picked her up she launched into all of the cool things she did that day.  She's already asking if she can go again next year.  I've also learned quite a bit too.  I've learned a lot about crickets, spiders, ladybugs, caterpillars, and sea horses!

Summer vacation for kids may have already started, but there are plenty of summer camps later in June and in July that still have room for your kid.  Consider enrolling them in a camp.  I'd bet good money they will walk away learning something and having a blast while doing it.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

Upper Peninsula Trip #1: The Porcupine

This June we took a trip to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.  We stayed in a house right on the north side of Lake Michigan.  During our 7 days there we discovered science all around us.  One of the cool things we saw was a porcupine!  We were at Fayette Historic State Park near Garden, MI.  After doing a bit of hiking we got back in the car to head somewhere else.  While pulling out of the parking lot my wife points out a porcupine sitting on the sidewalk.  He (or she) was just sitting there slowly pulling off leaves on a branch on the side of the sidewalk.

For obvious reasons we didn't get too close, but this was one of the highlights of the day for my girls.  They may have seen a porcupine in the zoo before, but never in wild.  I'm pretty sure that I've never seen a porcupine in the wild either!  

The moral of this story?  Keep your eyes open!  You never know what you might find.  In our case, a porcupine!  :-)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Is Space Empty?

It's a common misconception that space is truly empty.  It's often called a vacuum.  A true vacuum is an volume of space that has NOTHING in it.  Not a single particle exists inside a true vacuum.  Although space is very empty, it is not completely empty.  Between stars in space there is what is called the interstellar medium (ISM).  The ISM is composed of gas and dust and makes up the "stuff" between stars.  The density of the ISM varies depending on location in our Galaxy, but on average the density of the ISM is 1 atom/cm^3.  This means that if you take a tiny cube that is 1 cm on each side, the average ISM of this volume will have a single atom in that cube.  That's not much and it might be treated as a vacuum, but it isn't a true vacuum because that single atom resides in the cube.

How does this compare with air density on Earth?  Much, much different!  The average air density on Earth is 2.5 x 10^19 particles in a single cubic centimeter.  That's a 10 million trillion particles in that tiny cubic centimeter, but without that large number we would all die due to lack of air!

I may be acting a bit picky regarding the true vacuum comment, but too many people think space is empty and that simply is not true.

Friday, June 21, 2013

CO2 Candle Extinguisher

Recently my 6 year old daughter and I created a very simple CO2 candle extinguisher.  To do this we had to first produce some CO2.  Fortunately this is easy to do and we've done it before in other experiments.  Simply take a spoonful or two of baking soda and place it in a tall glass.  Then take a spoonful or two of vinegar and dump it in the same glass.  The vinegar will react with the baking soda and produce CO2.  The CO2 is more dense than air, so it stays near the bottom of the glass.  Now take this glass and slowly "pour" the CO2 into another empty glass.  Try not to let any liquid escape the first glass.  You won't actually see the CO2 pour into the glass, so use your imagination.  Watch the video below to see our successful attempt.

Now take the "empty" CO2 glass and pour the CO2 into the candle container.  We learned that small candles work best.  Large candle jars have too much oxygen in the jar and although the flame my flicker and dim, it doesn't go out entirely.  If you do things right, the small candle should go out due to the lack of oxygen.  The CO2, being more dense, sinks and fills in the space surrounding the candle flame, preventing the flame from accessing the needed oxygen.  Very cool!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Baby Birds!

Chalk this one up in the category of "you never know what you might find when you go outside".  This past week my 6 year old and I were taking a look at the garden.  Next to the garden was a broken egg (bird) shell.  That got me to thinking that if there's a broken shell, maybe there's a bird nest with some baby birds somewhere in the yard.  So we set out looking through the trees and bushes for active bird nests.  It didn't take us long to find one.

We found the momma bird sitting in the nest.  A few minutes later she flew away, so we went to check it out.  Inside were 2 eggs and one baby bird!

This was a really cool experience for my daughter.  This is the first time she's seen a baby bird this young.  Given that the other two eggs had yet to hatch (they hatched sometime in the next 2 days), the baby bird in the picture likely just hatched.  

In the days since we found this nest it has become a daily ritual to ask about the birds and to check them out when the momma bird leaves the nest.

So take a walk around your yard.  You might be surprised what you can find.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

June 23, 2013 Super Moon

A reader of this blog asked for me to say a few words about the June 23, 2013 "super moon" that is coming up in less than a week.  The official name of a "super moon" is a "full perigee moon".  A super moon occurs when the Moon is at its closest approach to Earth during a calendar month.  Thus there is a super moon every month of every year.  The Moon's orbit about the Earth is slightly elliptical, so sometimes the Moon is closer to the Earth and at other times it is farther away.  You don't hear much about super moons unless the point of closest approach to the Earth occurs when the Moon is in its full stage as shown below.

This month, June 2013, is a bit more special in that the Moon is at its closest approach of all of 2013.  This explains the reason for the "news" about it.  

That's the science behind a super moon.  Unfortunately there is a misconception that goes along with the super moon.  Super moons are often falsely advertised as being MUCH larger than regular moons.  This is the misconception.  Yes, the super moon is a bit larger in the sky because it is closer to the Earth, but it's not that much closer and not that much bigger in the sky.  In fact, unless you are a regular observer of the Moon in the sky, you probably won't notice any difference.

Another misconception is that super moons are a different color (bluish/purplish get passed around) than a regular full Moon.  Again, not true.  

I encourage you to go out and take a look at this super moon, but don't expect anything spectacular.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tea Bag Rocket

Any reader of this blog knows that one of my favorite activities to do with my daughters is to launch a rocket.  It's a blast, pun intended, every time!  This week we set out to create a tea bag rocket.  As the name suggests, we used a standard tea bag and turned it into a mini rocket.  Basically we dumped the contents of the tea bag out and turned it into a tall, hollow cylinder.  We lit the top of the cylinder on fire and the fire worked its way down the tea bag.  Eventually the remainder of the tea bag lifts off into the air!  See the video below to see our "launch".

Why does the tea bag launch into the air?  It's all about density.  As the flame works its way down the tea bag, the surrounding (exterior and interior) air increases in temperature.  Hot air expands, becomes less dense, and rises while cool air contracts, becomes more dense, and sinks.  In this experiment, the air inside the tea bag rises, taking the tea bag with it.  

Be careful doing this experiment since it does involve a moving flame.  Do not do it near curtains or anything else that may be flammable.  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Learning About Bugs

I encourage all parents to take some time this summer to take your kids to a zoo and/or museum that focuses on something that they are currently interested in.  For example, both of my daughters are obsessed with bugs (and worms) whenever they are outside.  Their obsession is greater with worms, but my 2 year old will point out every bug she sees and won't let it go until Mommy or Daddy acknowledge that she has found a bug!

Right on cue, a nearby museum had a bug exhibit that we visited to learn more about bugs.  The museum had several very large bug models, as seen below.

My daughters enjoyed their time at the museum and it helped drive their interest in learning more about bugs. If you are a parent reading this, take some time to help your child pursue his/her interests.  Even if you think it is a silly interest, do it anyway.  What may be a silly interest to you is not a silly interest to your child.  

Friday, June 14, 2013

Does an Orange Float or Sink?

Does an orange float in water or sink in water?  That's the question my 6 year old and I set out to answer this past week.  We began by filling a large bowl of water and placing an orange in the water.

We discovered that the orange floats.  Then we peeled the orange, removing the rind.  Placing the rind in the water we find that it also floats.

Next we placed the unpeeled orange in the water and guest what?  It sinks!

Why does a peeled orange sink, but an unpeeled orange float?  It's all about the rind.  The rind has a low density that is less than that of water.  When on the orange, the overall density of the orange is less than water and the orange floats.  The fruit of the orange is denser than water and as a result, sinks.  This is a great density experiment that teaches your child why objects sink or float.  Plus you get to eat a delicious orange afterwards!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

At What Temperature Does Water Boil?

At what temperature does water boil?  The answer to this is easy, right?  It's 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius).  Right?  Isn't that what we were told in elementary and middle school?  It was, but there is a misconception regarding these numbers.  Water does boil at 212 degrees sea level!  The boiling temperature of water decreases as elevation above sea level increases.

Why does elevation play a role?  The temperature at which water boils depends on the air pressure.  At higher elevations there is less air above the water and thus the air pressure is lower.  As a result, water molecules can more easily escape the pot of water and water boils at a lower temperature.  At most elevations this decrease in boiling temperature is minimal and nothing to really worry about.  At elevations that exceed several thousand feet, however, cooking instructions change to accommodate the lower boiling temperature.  Think about this for a second.  If you're trying to cook your macaroni in a pot of boiling water at a lower temperature, you need to cook it longer to maker sure the noodles are tender.

So how much does the boiling temperature change?  At 1000 feet the boiling temperature is 210.2 degrees F.  At 2000 feet the boiling temperature is 208.4 degrees F.  In Denver, CO (the mile high city), the boiling temperature is 202.5 degrees F.  That's about 10 degrees below the 212 degrees we think of as the boiling temperature of water.  If we go even higher, say 12,000 feet, the boiling temperature drops all the way down to 189.8 degrees F.  That's a big difference!

So the next time someone (maybe your kids) asks you about the boiling temperature of water, be sure to let them know that it is only 212 degrees F at sea level.  Everywhere else on Earth it is less than 212 degrees, and in some cases, 20+ degrees less.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rocket Launch

If you're a reader of this blog you already know that I love launching rockets with my daughters.  I think I get more excited about it than they do!  Our new rocket materials finally arrived and in the past week we've launched rockets on three separate days!

You can buy rocket materials relatively cheap from Estes Rockets (  They have expensive rockets, but they also have several that are less than $10.  The engines are usually around $10 for a 3 pack, but Hobby Lobby sells these and you can often find a 40% off one item coupon that drops the price significantly.

On one of our rocket launching adventures this week I took out our fancy camera in an attempt to snag some cool action shots.  I was not disappointed, as you can see below.

The launch happens so fast that you can't see the "flame" from the engine with your eye.  But with a high speed camera it shows up very nicely.  

The best part about rocket launching is taking your daughters tromping through a field to recover the rocket. On one attempt the wind took it and we had to hop in the car.  The rocket landed on the shoulder of a distant highway!  Thus far we've recovered every rocket we've launched!

Rocket launching isn't necessarily cheap, but it's an activity that I guarantee your kids will love!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Green Pond Slime

This past week my 6 year old and I went for a walk through our neighborhood and the local neighborhoods. It was a nice day out and we didn't want to waste it so we went out for some exercise and a bit of fresh air.  Along the way we stopped at a pond and noticed it covered in "green slime".  We found a stick to pull some of the "slime" out and investigate it.

Yummy, right?  :-)  Naturally my daughter asked what it was.  The quick answer is algae, but I had to look up a more detailed answer.  Here's what I pulled from the web.

"Look closely at the plant material. If the water is tinted green, green-blue or possibly even brownish, then your pond is probably experiencing a planktonic (free floating, microscopic) algae bloom. These blooms usually consume available nutrients and run their course. A foul odor sometimes accompanies the bloom.
If the plants do not contain leaves and are stringy filaments, clumps or netlike masses, then one or a number of the species of filamentous algae are present. Filamentous algae usually start growing on the bottom, form mats that can float to the surface, and can eventually cover the entire surface of the pond."

So there you are.  It's algae that forms from the combination of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and sunlight.  We probably spent 20 minutes using sticks to pull some of it out of the water and making a huge pile of "green slime".  Again, I probably had just as much fun as she did doing this!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Volcano Experiment

It seems like every kid makes a model volcano at some point during his/her childhood.  This week my daughter made her first volcano.  We didn't make the volcano base.  Students in my high school physics class made the base for something else and gave it to me.  Awesome students, I know!  Making a volcano is very easy.  Just do a Google search for "making a volcano" and you'll find several different options.  For the eruption itself I used the following website.

Science Bob's Volcano

We took a pill bottle and put in two spoonfuls of baking soda, a spoonful of dish soap, and a few drops of yellow and red food coloring to enhance the color of the eruption.  Then the bottle was placed in the volcano based, propped up by a board and several rocks to make it look more volcano-like.  Then we dumped in an 1/8 of a cup of vinegar and waited.  Our video is below.

You can see that the eruption happened, although it wasn't violent.  Afterwards we took a look in the pill bottle and I think the vinegar did not fully mix with most of the baking soda (see picture below).  

We need to experiment with this in the future to see if we can get a more impressive eruption.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Potty Training and Stickers

My 2 year old's potty training journey continues, but there is now a light at the end of this tunnel.  She has now reached the stage where she's wearing panties at both daycare and at home during the day.  She still wears diapers at night, but during the day she's learning that she needs to use the potty otherwise she'll have wet pants.  There have certainly been accidents, but the past few days have shown improvement and she's now telling us when she needs to go.

One of the interesting things she picked up at daycare is the sticker reward.  I have no issues with a small reward for going potty, but it's entertaining to see what she does with the sticker.  It's not just her either, it's all of the potty training kids at daycare that do this.  They take the sticker and put it on their forehead for the remainder of the day or until it falls off.

Why the forehead?  I have no clue, but it's a big deal with her and her friends.  Whatever works I guess!!!

Friday, June 7, 2013

I am Not a Dog!

The other night before bed I was reading the book Dinosaur Hunt to my 2 year old.  It's about a dog that is hunting for a dinosaur.  The first page of the book, seen below, shows the dog stating that he is NOT a dog.

My 2 year old was not happy when I read this page.  She kept saying, "Daddy!  That is a dog!  Daddy!  That's a dog!"  She wasn't getting the meaning of the book and I didn't have a good way of explaining it to her.  How do you explain to a 2 year old what the words "I am not a dog" mean when they are next to what is clearly a dog?!?!?!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Tornado Myths Debunked

With tornado season upon us it is important to understand the truth of tornadoes and it is especially important to avoid passing along tornado myths to your children.  For example, one myth states that opening your windows during a tornado will minimize damage and help save your home.  This is NOT true.  Opening your windows provides NO benefit.  Another myth is that it is safer to take cover in the southwest corner of your home.  Again, NOT true.  Here's a good link describing and debunking several tornado myths.

Another myth that is not listed on this site is that an area exposed to a tornado is much less likely to be hit by a tornado in the future.  Uh...why not?  Again, simply NOT true.  The sad thing about this myth is that it continues to get passed on by people of high standing.  Just the other week a top politician from Oklahoma stated that an area just hit by a tornado is less likely to be hit by one again.  No, no, no, a thousand times no!!!  The odds of any specific piece of land being hit by a tornado is low, but those odds are always the same and never change.  If a house is hit by a tornado today, it is just as likely to be hit by a tornado tomorrow.  

Please don't pass along misinformation to your kids.  Learn the truth and teach your kids the truth.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Octopus Hot Dogs

For about a week my 6 year old has been bugging my wife and I to go to the store and buy hot dogs so that we can make octopus hot dogs for her.  She was on this big kick about octopus hot dogs.  We've never made octopus hot dogs before so she must have learned about them at school or pre-school last year.  So what's an octopus hot dog?  A hot dog that looks like an octopus!!!  I took two pictures of our first octopus hot dogs, shown below.

I have to admit that they do look like an octopus!  :-)  To make these, my wife sliced the bottom half of the hot dog into eight slices.  The hot dogs were cooked in hot water and as they cooked, the slices curled to give the impression of moving legs.  

Never underestimate the fun you can have with food!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer = Rocket Season

With summer quickly approaching I've been getting materials together for rocket launching activities with my daughters.  I started this last year and purchased a few more engines along with a couple of new rockets for them to try out.  I've found Estes Rockets to be the best.  They have a huge selection at all skill levels and they often have free shipping deals or reduced rocket prices.

Rocket launching can quickly become an expensive hobby, but I try to keep it cheap by buying cheaper rockets and buying from Estes when they have deals.  My daughters could care less at this point which rockets we launch as long as they get to see one launch.  Thus I ignore the expensive rockets and go for the less than $10 rockets.  Each of the last two years I've invested $50-60 in rocket materials.  This is good for at least 15 launches a year.  That's good enough for us at this point.  

Check out getting a cheap rocket or two and learning with your child how to launch them.  It's a blast (pun intended)!  

Monday, June 3, 2013

Worried about Tornadoes

My 6 year old has learned about tornadoes in school this spring and had a couple of tornado drills.  Naturally tornadoes are scary to her.  Lately, she's been asking my wife and I about tornadoes and becomes scared whenever the wind outside picks up.  The other day we had a very strong 5 min storm that swept through with high winds.  The wind was strong enough that I had to climb on the roof and fix a couple of shingles that were loose.  During the storm my 6 year old became terrified and kept asking if this was a tornado.  I can understand her concern since the wind speed was ridiculously high.  We explained to her that it wasn't a tornado, but that didn't seem to help her.

The good thing about all of this is that it has been a good opportunity to reinforce tornado safety to her.  Staying away from windows, taking cover in the house, the proper way to take cover, and how to protect against a tornado if you are driving in a car at the time.

If you haven't taught your kids about tornado safety, please do so.  It could be the difference between life and death.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Glass vs. Cold/Hot Water

If you're not already aware, it's important to be careful with glass dishes when dealing with a mix of hot and cold water.  You can easily crack the glass if you're not careful.  My wife and I made this unfortunate mistake the other night with a drinking glass.  We warmed up water in the glass in the microwave.  For some reason, we then dumped the hot water and put cold water in the glass.  The glass almost immediately cracked as you can see below.

So what's going on here?  Glass, like most substances, expands and contracts when heated or cooled.  Glass expands when hot and contracts when cool.  You can't see the contraction taking place, but it does.  If the temperature change of the glass is too extreme over too short of a time period, the glass will crack/break.

This is an important lesson to teach your kids as broken glass is very dangerous.