Friday, November 28, 2014

This Blog's History: What is Frost?

My 7 year old just asked this question to me in the car on the way to an early morning soccer game so I thought this would be a great This Friday in This Blog's History re-post!

What is Frost?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all readers of this blog!  May your Thanksgiving Day be filled with joy and happiness....and a little bit of science!  :-)  Although not everyone has the same meal on Thanksgiving Day, it is very common for a turkey to be served.  A turkey has bones in it.  Instead of throwing those bones away, why not do a bit of science with them?

Grab a couple of turkey bones and clean them so there's no fat and/or turkey left.  Have your child(ren) test the strength of the bones by bending them.  They should notice that the bones are hard to bend.  Next fill a jar with vinegar, drop the bones inside, and close the jar.  Let sit for 3 days, take out the bones, rinse them, and test the strength.  Do the bones bend?  They should!

Normally one does this with chicken bones since it is more common to have chicken bones than turkey bones, but one can easily modify this on Thanksgiving when turkey is more likely to be served.

I haven't done this experiment with my kids yet, but I think later today we'll test it out!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Holiday Gifts for the Geek in Your Family

The holiday season is upon us and many of us are beginning or thinking about beginning our gift shopping.  We all likely have a geek somewhere in the family (being a geek is a good thing...I'm one!) and it can be tough finding gifts for the geek.  I recently came across an online store that offers gifts specifically for the geek.

Think Geek

Think Geek has gifts for both kids and adults.  Gifts include clothing items along with other accessories.  For example, they have a Doctor Who TARDIS lunchbox!!!

Doctor Who TARDIS Lunchbox

How cool is that?!?!?  I want one!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Quick Temperature versus Air Pressure Experiment

The other day my two daughters completed a very simple science experiment without even knowing it!  My wife and I were working on making dinner and both of our daughters went outside to the backyard to play.  The brought with them a large plastic ball filled with air and were kicking it around for about 45 minutes.  When it was time to come in for dinner, they noticed that the ball appeared to have less air in it and asked if it was leaking.

So what happened?  Was it a leak?  Nope, no leaks.  The ball was outside long enough and the temperature was low enough outside that the air temperature inside the ball dropped quite a bit.  When air temperature drops, the particles in the air move around more slowly and bounce against the sides of the ball wall less frequently.  This results in a drop in air pressure inside the ball and thus explains why the ball appears to have lost air, as shown above.  

Once the ball was brought inside it only took a couple of minutes for the air temperature to increase and for the ball to "re-inflate".  No air was added to the ball, but as the air particles inside gained speed, the inside air pressure increased.  

Very cool!  This just goes to show you that science surrounds you and is easy to find if you just take a moment to stop and look for it.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Candle/Air Pressure Experiment

Ever wonder how you can "magically" get water to rise up a glass?  Now you can do it yourself through this simple experiment.  Begin by lighting a small candle.  Fill a bowl of water colored by the food coloring of your choice.  Place the candle in the bowl of water, making sure the candle is tall enough such that the water level is below the candle wick.  See below.

Now take an empty class or jar (canning jars work great) and use it to cover the candle.  The flame will use up the remaining oxygen in the jar and go out.  As the flame diminishes and goes out, watch the water level in the jar.  It will slowly start to rise up the jar!  Very cool!  See our video below.

So why does the water appear to break the theory of gravity and rise?  The candle quickly heats the air inside the jar.  The air has nowhere to go.  As the flame diminishes, the air temperature quickly drops, and then drops even further as the flame goes out.  Colder air compresses into a tighter space and the air pressure is greater than the force of gravity pulling the water down.  Therefore, the water level inside the jar continues to rise!  If we had a taller candle, we could have tested how far the water level would rise.  Unfortunately all of our taller candles were larger than the jar so we couldn't test this.  Despite this, it was still a very cool science experiment.

Friday, November 21, 2014

This Blog's History: The Pop Can Race

This Friday in This Blog's History I bring back to you the pop can race experiment.  Which reaches the bottom of a ramp first?  A full pop can or an empty pop can?  Read the original post to find out.

The Pop Can Race

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Light-Years or Years?

My 7 year old recently brought home a book titled "First Space Encyclopedia".  It looks very cool and appears to be packed full of space-based information.  She just checked it out, so we haven't read much of it yet, but this morning while waiting for the bus, we read through the first page.  Each page has a fact question at the bottom with an answer on the next page.  The fact question on the first page was:

Q:  How old is the Universe?

Cool!  A very important question.  The answer?

A:  The Universe is just under 14 billion light-years old.

Um....????  What?  The "just under 14 billion" part is fine.  That's correct.  The age of the Universe is 13.8 billion ___________.  The key part is the unit that goes in that blank.  A light-year is NOT a unit of time.  A light-year is a unit of distance and describes how far away something is.  The edge of the Universe is 13.8 billion LIGHT-YEARS away, but that is not the same thing as age.  The answer to the question needed to be "just under 14 billion YEARS old."

It may seem like I'm being nit-picky here and making a big deal over nothing.  I argue that I'm not.  This may seem like a small thing, but this is how misconception develop, fester, and spread through society.  Whoever edited this book made a big mistake and thousands of kids will read this book and develop a misconception over the term "light-year".  It's a shame because the rest of the book looks great!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Science Rocks!

The other day my daughter brought home a science experiment book from her school's library titled Science Rocks.

The book was filled with awesome science experiments, many of which we had already done, but several of which were new to us.  Many of these will appear in this blog over the next several weeks.  One already has.  A few days ago I pointed readers to an experiment to Remove Salt from Saltwater.

Check out your local library for this Science Rocks! book or you can get it at Amazon here:

Science Rocks!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Memory of a Goldfish

We shouldn't feel bad for a goldfish in a small bowl because the goldfish has a memory that is so short it will forget its surroundings by the time it reaches the other side of the bowl, right?  Unfortunately this is a misconception that started somewhere and got passed down to the point that most people think it's true.

Scientific studies show that the memory of a goldfish last much longer than mere seconds.  In fact, goldfish have the ability to retain memories for several months!

Three Second Memory Myth

Goldfish Do Not Have a 3 Second Memory

Granted, the memory span of a goldfish may exceed that of other types of fish and is certainly much less than that of a human, but it is not the few seconds that is commonly thought.  So if you have a goldfish, maybe get your fish a bigger bowl.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Rosetta/Philae Comet Landing Pictures

Unless you've been living in a cave, you've likely heard about the recent spacecraft that landed on a comet.  Normally you'd think of this as a NASA accomplishment, but it was actually the European Space Agency (ESA).  The Rosetta spacecraft launched in March of 2004, did a flyby of a couple of asteroids, began to orbit the comet (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) in May of this year, and then on November 12, 2014, successfully landed a probe, named Philae, onto the surface of the comet.

This is an amazing accomplishment, something that had never been done before!  The harpoons to latch onto the comet did not work correctly, and the probe bounced upon landing, but was able to successfully come online, take picture, and send those pictures back to Earth!  AMAZING!!!  There's concerns that the probe is in a place where it won't receive enough energy through the solar panels to do much more, but nonetheless, this is a hugely successful mission!  It just goes to show you that humans can do amazing things when they work together!

Sit down with your kids and show them some of the pictures that are coming back from Philae.  They are simply amazing and show us the details of a comet's surface at a resolution never before seen!

Rosetta/Philae Mission Page

Friday, November 14, 2014

This Blog's History: Understanding Statistics

This Friday in This Blog's History I bring back to you a post discussing the importance of understanding statistics before reporting said statistics.  We see statistics thrown at us left and right every day through the internet, radio, TV, magazines, friends, teachers, parents, etc.  However, without understanding the science behind the statistics, numbers can be misused and twisted to prove an ideological point.  Don't let this happen.  Take time to understand the science behind the statistics.  Otherwise you might misrepresent the data and come across as an idiot and no one wants that!  :-)

Colder than Mars...Really?!?!?!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

1,000 Books Read!

In September 2012, my 4 year old (then 2 yr old) started a program at our local library called "1,000 Books Before Kindergarten".  We received a binder to record the title and date of each book read.  After each 100 books read, she was able to pick out a prize and a new book to keep at home.  Each time this happened was a day of excitement at the library for her.  I'm now happy to report that she/we read her 1,000th book last month!

Research study after research study shows that reading out loud to your children at a young age is the "single most important activity leading to literacy acquisition."

Importance of Reading Aloud

Library programs such as the one my daughter just completed are a great way to get parents to read to their children by providing incentives.  E-books are becoming more popular and are becoming a greater market share of all books, although recent stats show this increase leveling off.  I'm a big e-book reader, but I still love going to the library and showing my kids how to explore the library.  I'm often like a little kid when I go to the library, searching the stacks for a new author or new book series to read.

My point is to not forget about your local library.  It's a great resource for you and your children and often provides several programs to encourage reading.  Take advantage of these programs and let your kids explore the wonderful world of reading!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Power of "I Don't Know"

Kids have a tendency to ask many, many questions, most of which seem to come out of nowhere and are completely unrelated to anything going on at that moment!  One of the joys of parenthood!  Many times, and I would argue most of the time, your kids probably ask questions that you don't have a clear answer to.  I know my kids do.  Instead of faking through an answer to shut your kid up, or saying something based on something you thought you once heard, don't be afraid to tell your child "I don't know."

I think that too often parents and caregivers are afraid to tell a child they don't know the answer for fear of appearing dumb or uniformed.  I'm telling you to stop worrying about that.  Your kids are still going to see you as the center of their universe even if you admit that you don't know the answer to something.  There are advantages to admitting that you don't know.  It shows your kids that you are not perfect and that nobody is.  It also provides an opportunity to search out an answer WITH your child.

If your child asks you an obscure question about a dinosaur, for example, tell them you don't know (assuming you really don't), and then head to the computer or library to search for the answer with him/her.  This will help show your child the power of researching answers to questions and is a great bonding experience between you and your child.

So the next time your child asks you a question you don't know the answer to, don't hesitate.  Just say "I don't know" and then find the answer together!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Is Coffee Bad For You?

Is coffee bad for one's health?  Given the amount of coffee (and other caffeinated products) people drink, it's an important question to ask.  Like me, you may have heard that coffee can stunt one's growth or that it can lead to a greater risk of cancer down the road.  But is this true?  If it is, then there's a legitimate reason to stop drinking coffee.  If not, then by all means drink that coffee.

To answer this question we must turn to science.  There have been several studies done on the effects of drinking caffeinated products.  According to the Mayo Clinic:

"Recent studies have generally found no connection between coffee and an increased risk of cancer or heart disease. In fact, most studies find an association between coffee consumption and decreased overall mortality and possibly cardiovascular mortality, although this may not be true in younger people who drink large amounts of coffee."

In addition:

"Studies have shown that coffee may have health benefits, including protecting against Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer. It also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression."

That's good news, right?  For the most part yes.  However, it's important to note that there are some possible side effects to drinking coffee.  From the Mayo Clinic:

"High consumption of unfiltered coffee (boiled or espresso) has been associated with mild elevations in cholesterol levels. And some studies found that two or more cups of coffee a day can increase the risk of heart disease in people with a specific — and fairly common — genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body. So, how quickly you metabolize coffee may affect your health risk."

Here are the links to the Mayo Clinic comments on coffee consumption, as well as one from Harvard that concludes the same thing.

Mayo Clinic and Coffee Consumption

Coffee and Health

The main point to be drawn from this is that coffee does NOT stunt one's growth, nor does it lead to a greater risk of cancer down the road.  Coffee can have some health benefits, but can possibly lead to some health problems if one drinks too much.  However, a cup day appears to be perfectly fine, so go ahead and enjoy that coffee!  One last thing.  If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep at night or shaking/trembling after drinking coffee, you probably need to reduce your consumption or stop altogether.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Balloon Propelled Toy Car

I have to begin by giving my 4 year old's pre-school provider props for this one.  The other week my 4 year old's pre-school provider helped each of the students build balloon propelled toy cars, as seen below.

How does it work?  It starts with Newton's 3rd Law of Motion which states that for every force there is an equal and opposite reaction force.  The balloon is filled with air and held tight at the end.  When the end of the balloon is released, the greater outside pressure force collapses the balloon and pushes the air out.  The air from the balloon pushes against the air outside the balloon, which in turn pushes right back, propelling the car forward. 

Very cool!  Build your own and try out larger balloons.  What works best?  What type of balloon gives the greatest car speeds?  There are many things one can test out here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

This Blog's History: The Balanced Fork

This Friday in This Blog's History I bring back to you a very awesome demonstration that tests the concept of center of mass.  Two forks are balanced on a wine glass in a way that doesn't seem possible.  And there's fire!  If you haven't already seen it, check the original post link below and watch the video!

The Balanced Fork Experiment

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Rotting Apple Experiment Results

Last week my daughters and I cut an apple up into slices, dropped 1 slice in several canning jars, and dropped something in each canning jar.  We sealed the jars and watched the apples over the next several days.  The goal was to take a look at how different substances, such as salt, water, sugar, etc., effect the decay of the apple slice.  Below is a picture of the apple slice that we used as a control (in jar by itself) after 7 days.

Slightly browned, as you might expect.  Next is the picture of the apple slice placed in water.

Much browner.  Next comes the apple placed in salt.

Salt is a preservative and the apple slice still looks very fresh!  Next is an apple placed in baking soda.

The baking soda did a horrible job preserving this apple slice!  Next is an apple placed in brown sugar.

Not as bad as the baking soda apple.  It's interesting how the brown sugar turned into a liquid after a few days in the jar.  Next, and last, is an apple in white sugar.

Still very brown.

To conclude, the salt did the best job keeping the apple fresh, followed by air by itself.  The other materials quickly turned the apple slice to some shade of brown.

This was a cool, week-long experiment that you can easily do in your home with your kids.  What other substances could you put in with the apple?  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fungus Garden Success

I recently posted a few photos showing the start of a fungus garden my two daughters and I made.  We took a large canning jar and dropped in several food items.  We dropped in bread, cheese, lunch meat, and a Girl Scout cookie.

We then checked each day to see if anything was growing on the food items.  It took 7 days, but finally some mold started to grow on the lunch meat.  Then it spread to the cheese and eventually to the bread at the 10-12 day mark.

Mmmm...yummy!  LOL!  Yep, a successful fungus garden!  Try one out with your kids and see how quickly mold grows on different food items.  Nothing was growing on our cookie after 10 days, but the cookie did break up into several pieces as the days went by.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What is Dew?

We've all seen dew develop on grass, glasses of water, soda cans, windows, etc.  But what is dew?  That's the important question.  Once we see something, we want to be able to adequately explain it.  So what is dew?

Dew occurs when water vapor in the air condenses to a liquid on a surface.  How does that happen?  Take a glass of ice water for example.  Unless you have a well insulated container, drops of water (dew) will form on the side of the glass.  It's not water seeping through the glass.  I used to think this as a kid, but I was completely wrong. :-) Instead, it has to do with changing air temperatures.  The air immediately surrounding the glass cools as energy transfers from the air to the glass.  As the air cools, water vapor in the air drops temperature and changes phase from a gas to a liquid on the glass. 

The same occurs for pop cans, windows, plants, etc.  If the object causes the air around it enough to change the phase of the water vapor in the air, dew forms.  

There you go.  Knowledge is power!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Vote for Science!

Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 4, 2014 is election day in the United States.  It isn't a presidential election, but mid-term elections are just as important.  Every seat in the U.S. House of Representatives is up for election as well as 1/3 of the seats in the U.S. Senate.  On top of that, every local community will have additional elections for state senators, state representatives, local city/county representatives, along with possible referendums on various issues.  I encourage you to vote for politicians who have education and science in his/her best interest.  Without science education, this country cannot survive.

Take time to research the candidates on your ballot and please, please, please, go out and vote.  Voting is the number 1 thing you can do to improve your community.  Take your kids to the polls.  Talk to your kids about how elections work.  If your kids see you taking the time to vote, they'll see how important it is and become voters when they are adults.

Again, tomorrow, Tuesday, November 4, 2014 is election day.  Go out and vote!!!