Friday, October 30, 2015

This Blog's History: Glow in the Dark Slime

Making slime is easy and inexpensive to do, even if you buy the materials packaged in a slime making kit.  Add in glow in the dark material and you have a fun afternoon activity.  Check the original post here:

Glow in the Dark Slime

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Corn Maze Season

Looking for something to do this weekend?  Try a corn maze!  Corn mazes are big in the Midwest during the fall.  My wife and I took our kids to a corn maze last weekend and it was a blast!  The corn maze we visited had information signs on farming scattered around the maze.  The goal was to find each sign post and answer questions using the information on the signs.

Most corn mazes are only open through Halloween weekend, so if you're looking to visit one this year, get on it, there are only a couple of days left!  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Number of Exoplanets

How many exoplanets are officially known to exist?  What is an exoplanet?  Exoplanets are planets beyond our own solar system.  They are planets orbiting other stars in space.  Given there are billions and billions of stars in our own Galaxy, we expect billions and billions of planets.  On top of that, there are billions and billions of galaxies, meaning there are billions and billions and billions and billions of planets in the Solar System!  Wow!  However, we can only officially count what we detect, whether the detection method be direct or indirect.

The first exoplanet was discovered 20 years ago in 1995.  The planet was discovered by searching for gravitational tugs on the star.  Although the star has nearly all of the mass in a solar system, planets exert a force on the star that causes the star to slightly wobble.  This is an indirect detection method because the planet is not directly imaged.  Imaging a planet is extremely tough because the light reflected off the planet to us is very tiny compared to the light given off by the star.

Numbers of exoplanets increased slowly after 1995.  When I first started teaching in 2001 the number of known exoplanets was less than 100.  With the launch of the Kepler spacecraft in 2009, the number of exoplanets soon began to explode.  Kepler is no longer taking data, but the data taken is still being analyzed and the number of exoplanets will increase.  In addition, future telescopes will observe even more planets.  Kepler discovered planets by studying light from stars.  If a planet passes in front of a star relative to us, the star light dips a tiny bit.  Kepler was sensitive enough to detect this dip in light.

Currently, at the time of this blog post (October 28, 2015) there are 1,969 known exoplanets!  Wow!  Where will we be in 10 years? 10,000?  10,000 plus many Earth like planets?  Who knows and that's the awesomeness of science!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Seeking a Math Challenge

My 8 year old is in third grade and has just started multiplication in class.  To say nothing against her teacher or her school, my wife and I have gotten the message from our daughter that the math is a bit easy.  She doesn't seem bored nor does she ask for more, but she breezes through her math school work with no problem at all.  Knowing her as a child, we decided to get a math book for her to work on in addition to her school math work.  We went with the following book:

The book itself isn't a challenge book.  It's a standard third grade math book, but it allows our daughter to jump ahead to topics they haven't covered yet in school.  She's definitely ready and was super excited when the book arrived.  It didn't take any coaxing on our part at all to get her to test out the book.  As soon as she was done with her homework, she jumped right into it!  We'll have to see how it goes.  If she breezes through it in a couple of months, we may get the fourth grade version of the book.  

Parenting is tough, but if you're a parent, you already know that.  Watching your child struggle and not knowing what to do to help can be very frustrating.  A child struggling to understand a concept is tough, but so is watching a child struggle to be challenged.  I wouldn't say our 8 year old is there yet, but I'm seeing a few signs that this is a possibility in the future.  My wife and I are trying to be proactive.  Are we doing this right?  Maybe.  Maybe not   But we're trying and we'll continue to research the best methods to challenge our daughters if they need a greater challenge in their education.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

Liquid Freezing Time Experiment

Over Fall Break my daughters and I completed several science experiments.  In one experiment we took several liquids and tested to see which froze first.  Our chosen liquids were:

Orange Juice
Skim Milk
Apple Cider

Physics tells us that the rate at which something changes temperature is dependent on the specific heat capacity of a substance.  If we link this directly to the phase change from liquid to solid, we should be able to predict which freezes first.

We put exactly one tablespoon of liquid in a same sized ice cube section.  This allowed us to be consistent with both volume and depth.  The tray was placed in the freezer and we waited, checking every few minutes for changes.  

What should we expect?  Water has a specific heat capacity of 4.18 kJ/kg*C.  This means that it takes 4.18 kJ of energy to raise or lower the temperature of water 1 degree Celsius for each kg of water.  Objects with a greater heat capacity take longer to increase/decrease temperature and objects with a lower heat capacity take less time to increase/decrease temperature.  Therefore, the liquid with the lowest specific heat capacity should freeze first, everything else being equal.  So what are the specific heat capacities of these four liquids?

Water = 4.18 kJ/kg*C
Orange Juice = 3.73 kJ/kg*C
Milk = 3.94 kJ/kg*C
Apple Cider = 3.65 kJ/kg*C

This means the apple cider should freeze first with the water last.  In reality, it was difficult to tell.  We did notice the apple cider turning a bit slushy early on and a crust of orange juice ice forming early, so that is expected given those two have the lowest specific heat capacities.  The water and milk did take a bit longer to show any signs of freezing, as expected.  Using a specific heat capacity to predict is a bit simple, as the latent heat needed for a phase changes is also necessary.  Regardless, we did have some predictions that matched our results.  Another result was the milk cube.  It wasn't white, it was much more clear!  

Friday, October 23, 2015

This Blog's History: Liquid Water on Mars

In case you missed it (and I don't know how that is possible!), here's my post on the latest news on liquid water on Mars.  This is a huge discovery and has great implications on the possibility of life on Mars.

Liquid Water on Mars

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Excitement of Books

Reading to your kids on a consistent basis when they are young and letting them see you excited while reading will produce adults who are excited to read.  That's me as an adult.  Take me into a library or used bookstore and I'm like a little kid walking into a toy store for the first time.  I don't want to leave!  I love books!  I love to read!  I dedicate time to reading each day!  Yet I want more time to read than is available in my lifetime!  The other day at parent teacher conferences where I work (I was the teacher), a parent gave me the two NASA published books below.

Super cool!  I think the parent wasn't sure if I'd like this gift, but I did!  I may not have shown it as much on the outside as I did on the inside, but I love books and these are astronomy books!  AWESOME!  Read to your kids.  Read yourself.  Express excitement over reading and your kids will be lifelong readers themselves!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Banana Slice Experiment

Here's a neat little activity that's part science experiment and part party trick.  It's common to peel a banana and slice it into pieces, but have you every peeled a banana to find it already sliced?  Probably not which is why this is a neat trick to play on your friends.  It is possible to slice a banana without peeling it!  Start with a regular banana.

Whatever you do, don't peel the banana.  Grab a narrow sewing needle that is as long as the banana is thick.  Find a ridge and poke the needle into the banana, but not through the other side.  Wiggle the needle around the banana inside the peel.  The needle will easily slide through the banana and slice it.  Pull out the needle and move a bit further down the ridge.  Repeat.  Each time you poke the banana and wiggle the needle, you are creating another slice.  This does put marks on that side of the banana, but as long as you aren't pushing the needle through the other side of the banana, the other side will remain mark free.  Hand the banana to a friend with the un-poked side up and have them peel it.  They'll discover an already sliced banana!

Now that's cool!!!  It's a great indoor activity, especially if you trick a friend while doing it!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Kindergartner's Dinosaur Book

A couple of weekends ago my 5 year decided she wanted to write her own dinosaur book.  My wife gathered up some materials to construct a book and my daughter spent part of the afternoon creating pages for the book and putting together a story.

My 5 year old is just learning to construct sentences, so my wife wrote the story and my 5 year old illustrated it.  The book contains about 5 to 6 pages of a dinosaur and its story.  Super cute!  It's amazing what kids can do with their imagination when parents let them use it.  Too often parents force their kids into too many structured activities.  There's a place and a good reason for structured activities, but there needs to be a good balance between structure and free play.  It's the free play where amazing things can happen, such as a dinosaur book!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Glow in the Dark Slime

Wow!  Fall has flown by and we've been so busy with school and sports activities through most of August, September, and the first part of October, that we've slacked on doing science experiments as a family.  Last week was Fall Break week and the kids and I decided it was time to do a few science experiments!  What better way to celebrate Fall Break than science?!?!

Back at Christmas my 8 year old received a slime making kid.  Shortly after we made color changing slime.  This time we decided to make glow in the dark slime!

Making slime is pretty straight forward and the instructions in this kit (above) are easy to follow.  When mixing in the materials you'll get a few chunks that don't dissolve in the water.  My recommendation is to remove them with a spoon when it's clear they won't dissolve any further.  

The trick to making glow in the dark slime is to add Zinc Sulfide (included in kit).  When light strikes Zinc Sulfide, it excites the electrons.  The electrons move up and down energy levels.  When moving down they release energy in the form of photons (light).  Take the slime into the dark and it glows!

Now that is cool!!!  At this point the zinc sulfide was not evenly mixed in the slime which is why you see the streaks above.  After my kids played with the slime for a bit, the zinc sulfide was much more evenly mixed, as seen below.

This slime making kit was well worth the very reasonable price.  We bought it for $14.99 at Target (comes with 4 slime making activities), but you might find it cheaper at Amazon or Ebay.  Regardless, slime making is a morning of fun for you and your kids!

Friday, October 16, 2015

This Blog's History: Dihydrogen Monoxide

For this Friday in This Blog's History I bring back to you that nasty dihydrogen monoxide.  Stay away from it!  LOL!  ROFL!  :-)

Dihydrgoen Monoxide

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Kids, Sports, and Concussions

Both of my daughters are soccer players.  My oldest has expressed little interest in other sports.  She refused to play softball and basketball.  She did give gymnastics a try and liked it but liked soccer much better.  This is all fine by my wife and I.  We'll allow our kids to play and/or participate in whatever activities they like as long as they are not over-scheduled with activities.

I've often asked myself what I would do if we had boys.  Would I allow them to play football?  There are girls who play football, but the chances of my daughters wanting to play football are slim to none.  They could surprise me, but I highly doubt it.  But would I allow boys, if I had one, play football?  I'm not really sure.

There's more and more evidence (in fact, it is quite clear now that playing football leads to long term health effects) that football leads to life long disabilities.  Give the constant stress up on the body through vicious hits, many former football players walk with limps, have knee problems, and/or have on-going back problems.  These are just a few of the long term health effects.

The worst effect is the damage done to the brain.  It's very common for football players to have had multiple concussions.  A concussion is basically the sloshing around of the brain inside the skull due to a strong hit.  Although concussions lead to long term effects, most players have likely experienced many smaller concussions that were never diagnosed.  Every hard hit sloshes the brain a bit and this damage builds up over time.  Long term effects from concussions lead to several mental disabilities.

NFL Concussion Research

Anyone can get injured in any sport and those injuries may have long term health effects.  However, research is very clear that football is more damaging on the brain than most other, if not all sports.  I don't have boys, so if I did, I'd have to think about this in much greater detail, but I lean toward NOT letting them play football.  I emphasize, however, that I would need to do much more research before coming to a conclusion.

Having said that, soccer is not a concussion free sport.  Heading the ball is a key aspect in the game and it is possible for concussions to occur.  Each hit has the potential to slosh the brain around a bit.  There isn't nearly enough research in this area as there is in football, but there are more studies looking into soccer and concussions.  My daughters are not at the age of heading the ball yet, but will soon be.  Studies do show that soccer is the sport in which females are most likely to receive a concussion.

I admit to being bit fearful of my daughters receiving concussions as a result of playing soccer.  Am I being a good parent by allowing them to play soccer if it increases their risk of a concussion?  Am I being a good parent by not?  All sports can be dangerous.  To put it simply, I just don't know.  As a parent I have to think about what is best for my daughters that is reasonable.  I can't wrap them in bubble wrap to keep them safe.  Life and sports come with risks.  The key is minimizing those risks. Much easier said than done.  

To conclude, being a parent is hard!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Flu Vaccine Season

October is here which means it's flu vaccine season.  If you're a regular reader of this blog you know my stance on the flu vaccine.  Get it!  I just called up the clinic we go to each year for the vaccine and they are arriving this week and ready next week.  Thus I anticipate a trip to the clinic for my family and me sometime next week.  No need to delay.  Best to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

The flu vaccine gets a bad rap because it isn't nearly as effective as other vaccines and must be given every year.  The flu is constantly evolving and there's always some guess work into which strain to vaccinate for.  Some years the flu vaccine provides great protection but other years not so much.  The 2014-2015 flu vaccine did not provide much protection, unfortunately.  The flu strain had mutated quickly.  However, that doesn't mean you should reject getting the flu vaccine.  Even in a bad year, such as last year, the flu vaccine provides some protection.

Every year many people, typically the very young and very old (but on occasion the young and healthy) die from the flu.  According to studies done by the CDC, anywhere from 3,000 - 49,000 people die in the U.S. each year from the flu.  Even on the low end, 3,000 is a large number when there is protection that is easy to get.  The flu vaccine may not stop all deaths, but even in an ineffective year, it will stop some.

There are a few people who cannot receive vaccines for medical reasons, but those people are few and far between.  Let's face it.  You are not one of those people.  Do yourself a favor and vaccinate your kids and yourself against the flu.  You may hear all the time people claiming they got the vaccine but had the flu.  Maybe.  I won't discount someone getting the flu, but most people claiming they have the flu have nothing more than a common cold.  Symptoms are similar.  Having a stuffed, runny nose and feeling a bit weak is not the flu.  That's a cold.  A flu is much more effective at putting you down for the count.

Despite what you may hear, the flu vaccine does not cause autism.  It does not cause mercury poisoning.  It does not give you other illnesses and it certainly doesn't give you the flu itself.  The vaccine may be less effective some years, but remember that every year thousands in the U.S. die from the flu and some protection is ALWAYS better than no protection.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Locked Fridge

I was searching for my solar filter for the telescope in one of my work science storage rooms when I came across this and just had to take a picture.  

Yes, that is a fridge with a chain lock around the door handles.  :-)  I honestly have no idea what's in this fridge, but I know who it belongs to and I'm guessing there are dead cats/raccoons/rabbits, etc. to be used for dissection.  Or maybe I'm completely wrong.  *shrug*

The devious part of me wants to get one of these chains and lock my home fridge and watch the expression on my kids' faces when they get home from school and start searching for a snack!  

Monday, October 12, 2015

Superhero Puppets

The credit for this project goes to my 5 year and my wife.  My 5 year old came up with the idea of making superhero puppets and my wife took the initiative to find superhero designs and acquiring the necessary supplies.  Me?  I watched and said, that's cool!  :-)

Seriously though, how cool are those?  Way beyond my artistic abilities!  The smile on my 5 year old's face when she showed me the finished puppets was priceless!!!

Friday, October 9, 2015

This Blog's History: It's the Triops Again!

I promise you (okay, I don't really promise you) that this will be my last post on our triops.  :-)  I find them so cool to watch that I'm sharing with you, for This Friday in This Blog's History, the post in which I included a video of one of our larger triops digging around in the sand.  It's so cool!

Triops Are Awesome!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

2010: Space Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke

I recently offered my review on 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.  Although I had seen the movie, this was my first reading of the book.  It was a great book that everyone should read, but I still feel one character, who I thought was going to be a major character in the book, turned out not to be.

2010: Space Odyssey Two is a sequel to the MOVIE 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  It can serve as a sequel to the book, but it is officially a sequel to the movie.  2001 the movie is based near a different planet than 2001 the book, and the second book using the planet in the movie as its starting point.  Regardless of this change, 2010 is a fantastic book and another must read as far as I'm concerned.

The character I mentioned that turned out not to be a major player IS a major player in the second book.  I was happy to see this.  The book also discusses the troubles families can have in long distance/long time relationships.  It shows that not all aspects of a story have happy endings.  There's also a movie based on this book, released in 1984.  I haven't seen the movie yet, but am adding it to me "watch in the future" list.  

If you have a science fiction fan in the family, this book is a great option for a gift if you're struggling to find a gift.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Apples to Apples Junior

Apples to Apples is a very popular game that many of you have likely played.  If you've never played before, the basic rule is to match a word with another word.  Players start with around 5 cards in their hands.  Each card has a word on it (e.g. place, person, thing, idea, etc.).  Another card is dropped in the middle of the table by the dealer of that round.  Players must choose one card from their hand that best matches the card in the middle.  The dealer chooses the best card, and the player who laid that card gets a point.  The dealer shifts to the next person and the game continues.  For example, maybe the word 'sad' is dropped in the middle.  Players must choose a card of their own that best matches sad.  Sometimes no word matches and you just have to drop one.  Maybe the cards played are "Winston Churchill, Pizza, Crying, and Emotional".  Winston Churchill and pizza really don't match, but the dealer may choose between crying and emotional.

Apples to Apples is a great game for kids to work on their word recognition skills.  We have the junior version of Apples to Apples which has simpler words for kids.  My 8 year old loves it as does my 5 year old.  My 5 year old needs a bit of help reading some of the words, but she plays on a team with either my wife or I and we allow her to pick the word that best matches.  

Apples to Apples, either the full or junior version, is a great family game and also provides a learning experience for kids.  Plus it's hilarious to watch our kids laugh like crazy when someone drops a card that doesn't match the middle card at all.  They think that's super funny!  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Google Sunroof

My wife and I continually discuss energy cutting measures with our daughters.  We've explained the purpose of turning off lights when not in use and keeping showers to a minimum as greater hot water usage results in greater energy consumption and cost.  In addition we've explained why we set the thermostat higher/lower when we are out for several hours at a time.  One thing we've haven't done is talk to them about solar power.  They know the Sun is a great energy source, but we've never linked it to energy usage in our home, mainly as a result of not having solar panels on the house.  Enter Project Sunroof.

Project Sunroof

Project Sunroof is a Google tool that lets you see how much solar energy is available to your house and how much of your roof is available for solar panels.  Right now it is only available in San Francisco and Boston, but will soon expand to the rest of the U.S.  Solar power is a great resource and has reduced in price dramatically over the last 10-15 years.  Costs are now on par, and in some cases cheaper, than other sources of energy.

Even if your area is unavailable on Project Sunroof, it's still a learning experience for you and your kids.  Solar power isn't usually something we think of when cooling and heating our homes, but it is becoming more widespread each year.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Naked Astronomy Podcast

If you're looking to increase your astronomy knowledge, but don't have a lot of time to read books or magazines, I encourage you to check out the Naked Astronomy Podcast.  It's a monthly podcast put out by the Naked Scientists (no, they aren't really naked) and provides a great deal of information on astronomy-related current events.

They do an excellent job discussing complicated astronomy topics in a way understandable to a general audience.  If you enjoy their podcast, they do a weekly one called the Naked Scientists.  This podcast discusses science in general and ranges from science field to science field.  Stick to the monthly astronomy podcast if your focus is on learning more astronomy.  

The Naked Astronomy Podcast

Friday, October 2, 2015

This Blog's History: Physics at the Midway

Back in August we took our daughters to the Indiana State Fair and rode on the scrambler ride at the midway.  My 5 year old was not too excited about that ride, mainly because you get shifted to one side of the car.  There's a physics explanation for that, but you'll have to check out the original post to find out!  Sorry, but that's how the This Friday in This Blog's History work!

Midway Ride - Scrambler

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Liquid Water on Mars

If this is news to you, I must ask what you've been doing for the last few days!  The news I speak of is the strong evidence for LIQUID water on the surface of Mars.  For decades Mars has been looked at as a potential source of life outside of Earth.  Along with that came the search for water on Mars.  There's long been evidence of liquid water on Mars' surface from a few billion years ago, but this new evidence suggests liquid water exists on Mars TODAY!!!

The data came from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).  The MRO is not one of the rovers moving around on the surface.  The MRO is a spacecraft in orbit around Mars.  How is this possible?

"According to the new model put together by the space agency, the summer months on Mars see a shallow subsurface flow of briny water coming down from the planet's canyons and crater walls. They appear in various spots on the surface when the temperature reaches about minus 23 degrees Celsius (10 degrees Fahrenheit) and then fade in colder conditions."

Those are the words from NASA.  Super cool!  This increases the excitement over the possibility of life on Mars.  Where there's water, there's a chance for life of some form.  I'm convinced that within my lifetime, life outside of Earth will be discovered.  

For more details check out: