Friday, May 30, 2014

Two Year Blog Anniversary!

Today marks the 2 year anniversary of the Cool Science Dad blog.  The first post was published on May 30, 2012.  The blog started with a few hundred page visits per month to today's page view rate of 5,000 - 6,000 page visits per month!  It's been a blast, pun intended, sharing science ideas with you and your families.  I hope you've gained something from this blog.  I know I have!

If you're reading this, I encourage you to check out the most viewed blog posts.  You can see these on the right side of the blog posts.  Currently the Thunder/Lightning Misconception post is the most viewed all time, but the Egg Drop Experiment post is quickly catching up and may soon take the lead as most viewed post all time on this blog.

In addition there's a Cool Science Dad facebook group you can join!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Playing with Hydrophobic Sand

At a recent science demo exhibit my daughters were introduced to hydrophobic sand.  Hydrophobic sand, often called 'magic sand', looks like regular sand, but it's coated with a substance that repels water.  Thus the name hydrophobic (afraid of water).  Hydrophobic sand is cool to play with since it doesn't react the same as regular sand.  Here's a video of me playing in the sand.  :-)

Another cool demo with hydrophobic sand is to take a tank of water and sprinkle hydrophobic sand on the water's surface.  Then stick your finger in the water.  It doesn't get wet!  The hydrophobic sand repels the water from your finger.  You can also mess around with it on a spoon, as seen in the video below, once again, of me playing with it.  :-)  The video shows a bubble of water coated in sand.

You can get some of your own hydrophobic sand to play with.  Do a search on Amazon and you'll find plenty of purchasing options.  Very cool stuff!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Learn the Moon Phases

The other day, while in the car, my 7 year old noticed the Moon in the sky and asked me why it looks different at times.  Why does it look like a full circle sometimes, a half circle other times, and a sliver of a circle at other other times?  The common misconception is that lunar phases are caused by Earth casting a shadow on the Moon.  No...lunar phases have NOTHING to do with shadows.  I've stated this several times on this blog in the past.  Shadows produce eclipses, but do not produce lunar phases.  Lunar phases are simply the result of the geometry of the Sun, Earth, and Moon trio.

Regardless of the time of the month, half of the moon is always illuminated by sunlight.  The lunar phases depend on what portion of that half we see from Earth.  If we see all of that illuminated half, then we observe a full Moon.  If we see half of that illuminated half, we see a quarter phase (either 1st or 3rd).  

Another thing your can teach your kids or learn with your kids is that specific lunar phases are up in the sky at similar times of the day.  First quarter Moon phases are always up at the same time, while a Full Moon is up at a different time.  Over the course of a couple of months notice the change in phase versus time and determine if together you can find any patterns.  I bet you can!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Learning About Evolution

My wife, 2 daughters, and I attended our second Kid's Science Day in a month.  The second one had a booth/activity on evolution.  The person manning the booth discussed how humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor and showed them casts of several ape hands/feet.  My girls were able to compare their hands to the hands of the casts.  Very cool!

This was followed by an art activity to color in a drawing of a chimpanzee and make a mask out of it.  Both girls had fun with this.

My advice to parents is to look around for science days.  There are more out there than you think and you never know what cool science demos/experiments/concepts your children will be exposed to.  Plus they'll have fun!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Non-Popping of a Balloon

Here's a cool science experiment that you can do with your kids.  Ask them how it's possible to take a blown up balloon and stick something sharp in it without popping the  balloon.  They may think this is impossible, but there are a couple of tricks you can do to keep the balloon from popping.  One is to place a piece of tape on the balloon and poke a hole through the tape.  As long as the object remains embedded in the balloon, the balloon won't pop or deflate.  The tape holds the balloon material together and the embedded object prevents air from escaping.

Another trick is to use Vaseline.  Rub some Vaseline on a balloon and slowly poke a hole into the balloon, leaving the object embedded.  The Vaseline will hold the balloon material together.  This can be a bit tricky, so you may go through a few balloons before getting it right, but you should be able to make this work.

Make sure to glob the Vaseline in a small area.  Don't spread it too thin or the balloon will pop.  You can try experimenting with other types of tape or other types of greasy material.  Who knows, maybe you can find other ways to prevent the balloon from popping. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

This Blog's History: Brightest Star in Night Sky

This Friday in This Blog's History I bring to you a misconception regarding the brightness of stars.  Ask someone what the brightest star in the sky is and hopefully they'll say the Sun.  :-)  Okay, so maybe that's a trick question because usually the focus is on the night sky when one can see many stars.  Then what's the brightest start in the night sky?  The most common answer is Polaris, the North Star.  The North Star is brighter than most stars in the sky, but there are several brighter than it.  The brightest star in the night sky is Sirius, although it isn't up at night in the summer.

For more information, check the original post:

What is the Brightest Star in the Night Sky?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Monkeys Making More Monkeys

My 7 year old has figured out how to use Netflix on the TV, which isn't a bad thing as long as my wife or I are keeping track of what she's watching.  What's cool to me is that she'll find nature/science shows to watch instead of your standard cartoon.  The other day I walk from the kitchen to the living room.  Just as I'm about to ask her what she's watching, I see two monkeys doing it on the TV screen.  Uh...  She tells me she's watching a show about monkeys.  Okay then....

She didn't ask any questions, although I know that time is coming.  I'm not ready for it, but that time will come whether I'm ready or not!  :-)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Film Canister Rockets

Spring is a great time to launch model rockets, but if it's too windy outside, a good substitute is a film canister rocket.  All you need is a small film canister or a similarly sized object that has a water tight seal, water, and Alka Seltzer tablets.

Feel free to design the film canister any way you wish.  Fill the canister 1/3 to 1/2 full of water.  Drop in an Alka Seltzer tablet (a half tablet works just as well too), quickly put the lid on the canister and stand the canister upside down on the ground.  Do this outside!  

As the tablet dissolves in the water, gas is created, filling the canister.  The air pressure in the canister quickly increases and soon reaches the point that the canister blows off the top and launches into the air!  Very cool!  You can experiment with different amounts of water to determine how water level effects the launch.  You can also experiment with the size of the Alka Seltzer tablet.  You should be able to get the canisters to launch a good 15 - 20 feet in the air!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Life to Her Years

If you  haven't already, you need to check out the book, Life to Her Years.

Life to Her Years

It's a coffee table style of book with pictures and short blurbs that takes a look at dads and daughters during early childhood.  I had a chance to review this book and just received my copy last week.  It's a fantastic book that any dad with a daughter will love.

Father's Day is quickly approaching and this is a great gift for a Dad with daughters.  This comes highly recommended by the Cool Science Dad!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Tangled Headphones

On May 6, 2014, I posted a short blurb on my headphones becoming constantly tangled.  Apparently there are non-tangleable headphones wires on the market, but I'm not sure I believe that claim.  :-)  I'm sure they work, but being the cheap guy I am, I won't spend the money to buy them.  Here's what I found funny.  Just a couple of days after I posted about tangled headphones, my first grade daughter brings this home from school.

And I thought my headphones were tangled!  Holy cow!  

Friday, May 16, 2014

This Blog's History: Finding the International Space Station

This Friday in This Blog's History I bring back a post on looking for the International Space Station (ISS) in the sky.  The ISS orbits the Earth every 93 minutes, so when it passes over your sky, it's only in the sky for a couple of minutes.  You have to be out at the right time and know where you're looking to see it, but it can be very bright and easy to see.  The ISS isn't giving off its own light.  Instead, what you see is sunlight reflected toward the Earth.  Read the original post for more info on finding the ISS in your sky.

Finding the ISS

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spring is Here!!!

Here's how my daughters and I know spring is here.

This is a bird's nest in a tree in our backyard.  There's one baby bird, just born, and 3 more eggs, waiting to hatch.  At least I hope they'll hatch.  My 7 year old found this and couldn't wait to show it to everyone, including the other kids in the neighborhood.  I'm amazed at how large the first baby bird is compared to the eggs.  We'll have to check tonight to see if the other eggs have hatched.

My advice is to walk around your house or neighborhood and check out trees for bird nests.  You may find a few active ones with baby birds and/or eggs.  Your kids will enjoy the experience!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Science T-Shirts

If you're a reader of this blog you know that I'm a big advocate of getting kids interested in science at a young age.  There are many ways to get kids involved in science.  These include science museums, zoos, science camps, science documentaries, science based children's books, science demos, etc.  Another thing you can do is buy the occasional science based wardrobe!  Both of my daughters have a couple of science based T-shirts that they LOVE to wear!

Above is my 3 year old wearing her Einstein shirt!!!

And here's one of the three science based T-shirts my 7 year old has.  It's simply a random star pattern on a shirt with eyes.  She has others that are a bit more sci-ency, but this one fits as well.

Getting your kids interested in science is as simple as you want it to bed.  Just find a way to introduce science in your kids' lives!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Does Sugar Make Kids Hyper?

You hear all the time that kids get hyper when they eat too much sugar.  This usually comes up when kids are having friends over and eat too much candy or have a birthday party and eat too much cake.  But is this statement true?  Does sugar really make kids hyper?  The answer is no.  Several studies from the mid 1990s show no link between sugar and hyperactivity in kids.

So why is there a misconception regarding sugar and hyperactivity?  Why do most people link sugar to hyperactivity in kids?  It's hard to say but there are a few possible explanations.  People tend to link hyper kids to events where there are other kids (e.g. birthday parties, holiday parties, family reunions).  There is usually an overabundance of sugar at these events in the form of desserts, cakes, candies, etc.  Everyone tends to eat a bit too much sugar at these events, but it's not the sugar that makes kids hyperactive.  These events are also opportunities for kids to play with kids who they may normally not play with in groups.  As a result, kids are already excited and hyped up for this reason.  Parents are the ones that then link this to sugar.  Remove all of the sugar at the event and your kids will still act hyper due the excitement of having a bunch of other kids to play around with.

So to repeat, no, sugar does not cause hyperactivity in kids.  The science destroys this myth.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Women in Science

I've posted before on the gender inequality and male dominance we see in most science fields, especially in physics and astronomy.  A recent poll in the UK adds more evidence that there is still a big gender bias in science.


The poll asked 3,000 UK residents to name a female scientist.  Of the scientists named, 12% named Isambard Kindon Brunel...A MALE!!!  Awareness of females in science is poor if 12% of respondents named a male scientist!

In addition, when asked to name a living female scientist, 68% of respondents named Marie Curie, who died in 1934, 80 years ago!!!

Sigh.  How do we combat this unawareness?  The key is getting your kids involved in science at an early age.  Enroll them in science programs, day camps, summer camps, etc.  Take them to science museums.  Do science experiments with your kids.  Watch science documentaries with your child.  Any bit of science you can introduce into your child's life will help improve their awareness of science in general, and as a result, increase their awareness of females in science.  If, as a parent, you do your part, we can all work to improve gender equality in science and increase awareness of female scientists.

Friday, May 9, 2014

This Blog's History: Does the Moon Rotate?

With the recent lunar eclipse (mid April), there's been a lot in the news regarding the Moon.  So for This Friday in This Blog's History, I bring back to you a misconception many people have regarding the Moon.

Does the Moon Rotate?

The same face of the Moon always faces the Earth as the Moon is tidally locked to the Moon.  This leads people to believe that the Moon doesn't rotate on its own axis.  But to have the same face facing the Earth, the Moon must rotate on its own axis.  It just does its rotation at exactly the same rate as the Moon's revolution about the Earth.  This keeps the same side of the moon always facing Earth.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Is Sitting Too Close to the TV Bad For Your Eyes?

How many of you had parents who told you that sitting too close to the TV would hurt your eyes?  How many of you AS parents have told your kids that sitting too close to the TV hurts your eyes?  I'm guessing quite a few.  But guess what?  This isn't true.  It's a misconception.  Sitting too close to the TV doesn't harm your eyes.  If you're child is often sitting very close, this could be a sign of nearsightedness, but the nearsightedness is not caused by sitting too close.

Personally I think it's weird when my kids stand right next to the TV and I tell them to move back and sit on the couch.  I'm also worried that when they stand right next to the TV, they'll accidentally get rowdy and bump the TV, knock it down, and break it.  So when I tell my kids to sit away from the TV, I'm not worried about their eyesight, I'm worried about the safety of my TV.  :-)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Which Planets are Visible to the Naked Eye?

If you have an elementary aged child, he/she has likely studied the planets of the solar system in class or read books about the planets.  I can't count the number of planet books my 7 year old has brought home from school or the library because the number is too high!  These books do a great job of teaching kids about the 8 Solar System planets:  Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.  Pluto is missing because, unlike when I was a kid, Pluto is no longer an official planet.  More on this in a future post.

What's often missing from these books is a discussion on which planets are visible to the naked eye and which are not.  Since several of the planets are visible to the naked eye and are usually brighter than most of the stars in the sky, it's important to know which ones you can see without an observing aid.

The naked eye planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  Uranus and Neptune, as well as Pluto and other Pluto-like objects, all require a telescope to see.  Venus is brighter than all of the stars when present in the night sky.  Jupiter and Saturn can both be very bright.  Mars is a bit dimmer, but has a reddish appearance and is easy to find when it's out at night.  Mercury is the tough one.  Since it's a planet inside Earth's orbit and it is the closest planet to the Sun, it is always seen very close to the Sun in the sky.  Since the Sun floods the sky with light, Mercury can't be seen when the Sun is up.  It can only be seen just before the Sun rises, or just after the Sun sets.  Even then, it's very close to the horizon and requires a sky void of trees and buildings.

It's also important to note that planets are not always up at night.  They are just as likely to be up during the day as they are at night, and in the case of Mercury and Venus (inner planets), they are more likely to be up during the day than they are at night.  When up during the day, you can't see them, due to the Sun's much more intense light.

The next time your child brings home a book about the planets, or brings up the planets in a discussion, talk to them about which we can see and can't see in the sky.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Science of Tangled Headphones

Okay, I'll admit that although I have a Ph.D. in astrophysics, the ease at which a simple pair of headphone cables gets tangles is beyond my understanding.  I swear that I stick them in my pocket and pull them right back out and they are double knotted in 5 different places!

I need to convince one of my daughters to figure out this problem.  Sure, there are wireless bluetooth headphones out there, but isn't there a way to make untangleable headphone wires?  The person who invents these is financially set for life!!!

Rant over.  LOL!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The National Eagle Center

Recently my family and I did a bit of traveling through the Midwest over Spring Break.  We had the opportunity to visit the National Eagle Center, located in Wabasha, Minnesota.  Located right on the Mississippi river, the center offers a great opportunity to view eagles close up, as well as many others flying around in the wild.

The center has a few eagles held in captivity.  These are eagles that have been injured in the past (car accidents, lead poisoning, etc.) that can no longer fly on their own and thus cannot survive in the wild.  Both of my daughters were amazed at the eagles.  Here are a couple of pictures we took.

One of the eagles, Angel, was missing from her home area and this deeply concerned my 3 year old.  Angel was visiting a nearby VA hospital, but this was not a satisfying response to my daughter!  She was really worried about Angel and couldn't understand why she was missing!  Fortunately Angel returned just as we were leaving and my daughter was able to meet her.  

The center has a nice indoor display of eagles, but if you visit in the summer, you can walk around the trail by the river and drive around looking for eagles.  It's a very scenic area.  Plus, I highly recommend the Irish Pub, The Old Triangle Pub, just a block or two away.  Delicious food!

If you find yourself in southeast Minnesota, definitely take some time to visit the National Eagle Center.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

This Blog's History: The Wasp Trap

With summer quickly approaching, in This Friday in This Blog's History I bring to you the wasp trap I built last summer to get rid of a wasp infestation I was having.  Hopefully those wasps are gone, but I'm keeping an eye on things this summer.  Need to build your own trap?  Check the original post below.

The Wasp Trap

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Miss the Solar Eclipse?

In case you and your kids missed the annular solar eclipse on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 morning (and let's face it, you did because you don't live in Antarctica and probably don't live in Eastern Australia!), you can check out a video and photos of the eclipse here:

Solar Eclipse Photos

For those in the United States, a solar eclipse is quickly approaching.  One will sweep across the U.S. in 2017 and another will do so in 2024.  Keep your fingers crossed for clear skies!