Friday, January 30, 2015

This Blog's History: The Balancing Bottle

Want to impress your friends with a cool science trick?  Try the Balancing Bottle.  I mentioned this a few weeks ago and am bringing it back to you in this Friday in This Blog's History segment.

The Balancing Bottle

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Salt on Ice Experiment

One day the other week, a day on which my 7 year old was home from school due to a bad weather school closing day, we did a very easy experiment that is directly related to a real life experience.  My 7 year old has easily noticed people spreading salt on the sidewalks to melt ice.  She recognizes the salt melts ice, but didn't know why.  So why does salt melt ice?

Salt works to reduce the freezing temperature of water.  If the freezing temperature is lower, the ice is more likely to melt back into liquid water at much colder temperatures.  If it's too cold outside, however, the salt won't work nearly as well.

We set out to test this inside the house by taking two ice cubes from the freezer of equal size.  We placed the cubes on a plate and sprinkled table salt on one and then waited for them to melt.  My daughter's initial hypothesis is that the cube with salt on it would melt faster.  A reasonable hypothesis knowing that salt melts ice outside.  Here are a few pictures of our ice cubes melting.

As the ice cube without salt melted, the edges remained smooth and curved, whereas the salt gouge out divots as the cube melted.  The ice cube without the salt melted first, but it's possible the cubes started out with different masses.  Even then, the ice cubes are not melting due to salt.  The temperature inside the house is much higher than the freezing point of water, so the cubes are going to melt regardless.  Still, it's easy to see that the salt changes the shape of the cube as it melts.

This is a neat little experiment to test something my daughter recognized was taking place outside to clear sidewalks.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Hobbit

Each December of the last three years (2012, 2013, 2014) my wife and I have gone to see The Hobbit in theaters while our kids are at school/pre-school.  This year my 7 year old started asking about The Hobbit and we explained to her the movies are based on the books (The Hobbit + Lord of the Rings).  She was really curious about the story, so my wife has been reading The Hobbit to her a bit at a time each night before bed.

My daughter is really enjoying the book.  On top of this, it gives a chance for me to focus on my 4 year old before bed.  Her and I have been reading different books before bed and it's been a great daddy/daughter experience.

Back to my 7 year old.  Now she wants to watch the movies and I'm really excited about that.  However, I want to wait a year or two.  The movies are rated PG-13 and there's quite a bit of violence/blood.  I think she's close to handling watching the movies, but I'm going to give it a year or two.  That's a long wait...for me!  I can't wait to share the experience of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with her!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Edible Chemistry Set

For Christmas my wife and I gave our 7 year old daughter an edible chemistry kit.

Edible Chemistry Kit

We opened it up the other day and set out to do a few of the experiments provided in the instructions.  The kit comes with several experiments that all focus on the same chemistry topic:  acids versus bases.

This is probably not the best gift for a kid with chemistry experience, but for the beginning chemist, this is a great, safe approach at testing basic chemistry.  I took a few pictures of my daughters' (the 4 year old helped out too) experiments.

The color of the liquid changes depending on how acidic or basic the solution is.  My daughters loved this and we still have several experiments left to test.  These are great for days the kids are bored and can't go outside due to poor weather.

Monday, January 26, 2015

StarTalk by Neil deGrasse Tyson

If you've never listened the Star Talk Radio podcast by Neil deGrasse Tyson, you definitely should!  Tyson does a great job explaining complicated astronomy topics in a very clear and humorous way.  I've been listening for 2+ years now and look forward to each weekly episode.

For the TV watchers out there, I have good news.  Tyson's Star Talk podcast has been picked up by the National Geographic Channel and will premiere in April as a late night talk show.  I don't have a TV subscription service at home, so I won't get to see it, but I'll continue to listen to the podcast.  If you have cable/satellite TV and get the National Geographic Channel, set your DVR to record this new show in April.  You won't be disappointed!

Friday, January 23, 2015

This Blog's History: Light-Years or Years?

What is a light year?  Is it a time?  Is it a distance?  Many movies and TV shows screw up the definition of a light year.  I posted on this last year, so for This Friday in This Blog's History, I bring back to you my blog post on the light year.

Light-Years or Years?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mythbusters - Streaming TV

I recently posted on the awesomeness of Mythbusters as a cool science show for both kids and adults.  All episodes used to stream on Netflix, but last fall, Netflix removed all Discovery shows, meaning my daughters and I were out of luck (we don't subscribe to a cable/satellite TV service).  I'm now happy to report that Mythbusters is back via streaming...sort of.  

If you subscribe to Hulu, you can once again watch Mythbusters via streaming.  However, you can't watch all episodes.  Hulu only has the latest two seasons, seasons 13 and 14.  But two seasons of Mythbusters is better than none!

If you've never seen Mythbusters, check it out!  My daughters love watching it and for the most part the show is kid friendly.  Every once in awhile there's an episode we skip.  For example, there was an episode on decapitation that I didn't think my daughter was ready for at the time.  Use your best judgement as a parent, but most episodes are perfectly fine for an elementary aged child.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Microscope = Great Gift

I mentioned in a previous post that my wife and I gave my seven year old a microscope for Christmas.  Not that I was every worried, but she loved it!  She's been grabbing different things around the house and out of the house to look at.  She hasn't quite gotten the hang of what you can and can't look at through a microscope, but the learning process of trial and error will greatly benefit her later in life.  For example, she went out and grabbed a big stick from the back yard, placed it on a plate, and then told my 4 year old to look at the stick.  My four year old says:

"It just looks black!"

LOL!  Yes, it does just look black because the stick is thick, with no light traveling through and blocks the entire field of view!

Next up for my seven year old is a snow flake!

Which microscope should you buy?  We didn't buy anything fancy or expensive.  Here's the one we bought her:

Educational Insights Micropro

As you can tell, it's nothing fancy, it's not made of high quality material, but it's also less than $40.  So far it has worked great as an introductory, teaching microscope for a seven year old.

Consider one for your kids.  I'm guessing they'll love it!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

52 Science Misconceptions Infographic

One of my main goals with this blog is to clear up science related misconceptions.  There are so many science misconceptions out there that I could post about one every day for the rest of my life and still not finish!  Here's a great infographic covering 52 common science misconceptions.

For a better image, go to the original source link below:

This is a great source that clears up many misconceptions in one image.  Many of these I was not aware of!

Monday, January 19, 2015


One of the Christmas present my seven year old received this year was an awesome triops kit from the Smithsonian.  It's a kit that contains a small aquarium with sand, triops eggs, and triops food.  What's a triops?  A triops is a genus of small crustaceans whose fossils date back to 300 million years ago!

We followed the instructions, waited 4 days, and nothing!  I sort of expected this.  For the successful triops hatching, the water needs to be relatively warm, not dropping below 72 degrees Fahrenheit.  We didn't read this part of the instructions until after dropping the eggs in.  Doh! With winter upon us, the house temperature is less than 72 degrees.  

So now what?  Although we failed at growing triops, we learned a valuable lesson about the conditions triops need in order to thrive.  We still have a half packet of eggs left, so when summer arrives and the house temperature exceeds 72 degrees, we'll try again and hopefully have more success.

Friday, January 16, 2015

This Blog's History: Does Eating Turkey Make You Sleepy?

The holiday season is now over and you're probably done eating turkey in large quantities for awhile.  So for This Friday in This Blog's History post, I bring back to you the all important turkey eating question.  Does eating turkey make you sleepy?  What does the science say?  Check out the original post for full details.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Not Too Late to Get Your Flu Vaccine

Missed out on getting your flu vaccine?  It's not too late!  It's better to get your flu vaccine in the fall, before the flu season fully begins, but even a later flu vaccine can provide you some protection before the spring/summer months arrive.  So don't think it's too late.  You can still get the vaccine and find some benefit from it.

While you're at it, learn the differences between the flu and a cold.  It amazes me how often people complain about having the flu when all they have is the sniffles or a bad cold.  There are certainly similarities between the cold and the flu, but some symptoms are much worse with a flu while others are more common with a cold.  Knowing the difference can help avoid a trip to the doctor's office and avoid paying doctor fees.  A great source on this is below:

The Difference Between a Cold and the Flu

Having the flu can be a horrible experience, but getting your flu vaccine, even if it's late in the season, can drastically improve your chances of avoiding the flu.  And remember, most people who complain of having the flu have nothing more than a common cold.  Get the facts by knowing the symptoms!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Your Inner Fish

If you watched the recent Cosmos series and are looking for another high quality, entertaining science documentary series, I highly recommend Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin.  It's available via streaming on Netflix.  It's a shorter series than Cosmos with only three episodes, but each of the episodes is amazing!  Your Inner Fish discusses the topic of evolution.  Shubin does an excellent job explaining complex concepts and is very energetic.  Check it out.  It's a great rainy afternoon time killer!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Growing and Shrinking Dinosaurs

My 4 year old was given a set of growing/shrinking dinosaurs as a birthday party thank you gift from one of her friends.

The dinosaurs start out very small, you drop them in a glass of water, and several hours later they grow in size.  The package says they grow to 400% their original size.  I remember these things as a kid and always being extremely disappointed in the result.  When you see 400% written on the package, it gives the impression that the dinosaurs will be HUGE after they grow.  The dinosaurs do indeed grow, as seen in the picture above.  The pink dinosaur is definitely bigger then the yellow and green dinosaurs.

I don't doubt that the pink dinosaur is 400% bigger, but 400% really isn't all that much, especially when the object starts very small.  400% is four times bigger.  However, four times bigger doesn't appear much bigger when the object starts off small.  My 4 year old was convinced the dinosaur was going to grow out of the glass of water and reach as tall as the cabinets in the kitchen.  Sorry little one, but not quite.  :-)  I think she was a bit disappointed the next morning when she found the dinosaur bigger, but still easily contained within the glass.  

The moral of this story?  Keep your expectations at a reasonable level and your won't be disappointed.  :-)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Talk Nerdy Podcast

As readers of this blog know, I'm always on the lookout for quality podcasts related to science.  I've previously posted lists here and here.  A couple of weeks ago I came across another fantastic science podcast called Talk Nerdy with Cara Santa Maria.  She used to do a science column at the Huffington Post, but has since moved on to podcasting.  She does a fantastic job talking science to a very general, non-science audience.

Talk Nerdy is a great science podcast to help increase your general science knowledge.  I highly recommend it.  She will drop the f-bomb every once in awhile, so use your best judgement in listening around or with your kids.

Friday, January 9, 2015

This Blog's History: Top 100 Science Stories in 2014 by Discover Magazine

If you haven't checked the January/February 2015 issue of Discover Magazine, please do so.  They rank their top 100 science stories of 2014.  It's a great issue to keep up to date on current events in science.  I disagree with their number 1 story, as discussed in the original post on this topic.

Discover Magazine's Top 100 Science Stories of 2014

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Balancing Bottle

Got a few minutes of time to kill?  Try out the Balancing Bottle experiment.  You need an empty rootbeer/beer bottle and a dollar bill.  Place the dollar bill on the table and place the bottle upside down on the dollar bill.  The goal is to pull the dollar bill out from under the bottle without the bottle tipping over.  Easier said than done.  See our video below.

The trick is pulling the dollar bill out as quickly as possible.  Too slow and there's too much friction between the bottle and dollar bill, causing the bottle to tip over.  My daughters weren't able to pull the dollar bill out fast enough, but I finally got it on the try in the video above.  It was cool seeing how long the bottle wobbled before settling back to a rest.  

If you have bottles of different sizes you can test which bottles work better.  Tall?  Short?  Fat?  Skinny?  What about a full bottle?  Does a full bottle work better than an empty bottle?  If you use a full bottle, you may want a towel ready to go in case the bottle breaks.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Dancing Noodles Experiment

On a weekend not long ago my daughters and I set out to do the Dancing Noodle Experiment.  We started by cooking a few fettuccine noodles until soft.  We dropped the noodles in a large canning jar.  We filled the canning jar with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water.  My 4 year old chose a few drops of yellow food coloring to add some color to the mixture.  Next we added the key ingredient, baking soda.  We dropped in a tablespoon of baking soda.

The baking soda causes a reaction with the vinegar water mix, so be careful.  As you can see from the video above, the liquid rose and spilled out of the jar.  Give the mixture a minute to react and you'll start to see some of the noodles rise and fall.  It's not on the video, but you can add another tablespoon of baking soda to continue the reaction and get more movement in the noodles.  

Try it out yourself.  It's a very cool experiment.  Just have a towel or two handy.  :-)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Swimming After Eating?

As kids we probably heard several statements from our parents that we questioned or didn't understand why they were true.  As parents, we've probably said some of those same things to our kids.  One example I discussed on this blog concerned how close one sits to a TV and whether or not it is harmful to one's eyes.  Spoiler alert, it's not!

Is Sitting Too Close to the TV Bad for Your Eyes? Nope!

Let's try another one.  Is swimming right after eating a meal dangerous?  Most of us were probably told yes.  It turns out that the answer is no.  There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that it is dangerous to swim after eating or that one should wait at least 1 hour after eating before swimming.  There are no reported cases of someone drowning as a result of having just ate.  A common explanation is that you are more likely to cramp after eating and this could prevent you from staying afloat.  Again, no research backs up this claim.

You Shouldn't Eat After You Swim? (Check #3)

Here are a couple of other sources stating the same thing.

Swimming After Eating?

Do You Really Have to Wait to Swim After Eating?

Do you Have to Wait 30 Minutes to Swim After Eating?

The conclusion is clear.  Go ahead, hop in the pool, lake, or ocean and swim away after eating.  I suppose you don't want to gorge yourself to the point of throwing up, but aside from that, there is absolutely no danger to swimming directly after eating.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Sandbox Ice

The other week my daughters were outside in the backyard playing when they suddenly come running to the back door.  In excited voices they tell me and my wife that we need to come out and see something.  So we grab our shoes and head outside.  They have a sandbox outside that had filled with water some time back.  The water then froze when we had a stretch of cold days.  This day was a warmer day and the ice had started to melt just enough for them to pull the ice out of the box.  Here's what they were excited to show us:

They got a kick out of these ice shapes, especially the top picture where a cup is still frozen into the ice.  Moral of the story:  Let your kids play and explore outside.  You never know what cool things they may find. :-)

Friday, January 2, 2015

This Blog's History: Is Coffee Bad For You?

We're now in the second day of 2015 and you may or may not have broken your New Year's Resolution.  Was your New Year's Resolution to drink less coffee?  If so, why?  Is coffee bad for you?  Science can answer this question.  I originally posted this in November 2014, but I'm bringing it back for This Friday in This Blog's History.  What does the science say about drinking coffee?

Is Coffee Bad For You?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Years Resolution? Try Science!

Instead of setting the too common and too broken new years resolution of losing weight, eating healthier, and working out more, why not try something different?  Let your new years resolution for 2015 be a more active role in science.  Read more science blogs, magazines, newspaper articles, websites, etc.  Listen to more science related podcasts.  Spend more time with your kids doing science experiments.  Investigate the world around you.  Ask hard questions.  Demand answers to those hard questions.  You'll be amazed at how much you learn.  Science is awesome, but only if you take an active part in it.