Thursday, March 31, 2016

Hole in Your Hand Experiment

Here's a cool science experiment you can do with your kids that makes it appear as if there is a hole in your hand.  It's more of an illusion than a science experiment, but cool nonetheless.  I learned of this illusion watching a short video produced by the BrainCraft team on YouTube.

One Weird Visual Illusion Explained

Begin by taking a regular sheet of white printer paper.  Any color will do.  Roll it into a long, narrow tube, about the size of a quarter.  Make sure both ends remain open so you can see through both ends as shown below.

Look through the tube with one eye.  While keeping both eyes open, bring the palm of your hand close to your other eye, an inch or two away.  Slowly bring the palm parallel across your eyes until it touches the tube of paper.  As you do this, you should see a hole appear in your hand!  Obviously there is no hole in your hand but a cool little illusion trick nonetheless!  

Why is this happening?  I'll point you to the video link above for details.  BrainCraft does a much better job explaining than I ever could!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Slacking Tooth Fairy

If you're a parent you're probably well aware that the Tooth Fairy can be a slacker at times.  :-)  Sometimes the Tooth Fairy simply forgets to show and your child wakes up with the tooth still sitting in her tooth fairy tooth cup holder.  What can I say, the Tooth Fairy needs to sleep too!

My 8 year old is well aware of who the tooth fairy is, so when this happened to her recently, she came over to my wife and I the next morning with a frown on her face to tell us the tooth fairy didn't come. squirrel!  Of course the tooth fairy showed up the next day but it was cute seeing the smiley frown combination she had.

Just the other day my 5 year old lost her second tooth and my wife and I completely forgot to exchange the tooth for a small amount of money.  Fortunately my 5 year old came out of her bedroom to breakfast without checking on the tooth, so as soon as she was eating breakfast, I ran to the back room to exchange the tooth!  LOL!  To my credit I had pulled out the quarters and had them ready to exchange the night before!

Ah...parenting.  The fun and memories that are made!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Pluto Updates

It's been over eight months since the New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto in July 2015 and opened up a whole new world of planetary science for astronomers and the public.  Never before had we seen images of the surface of Pluto and now we filled with amazing images such as this one.

Wow!  It doesn't make the news as much eight months later, but New Horizons is still sending back data and new images are coming in every week!  Last month, for example, we learned that Pluto's large moon, Charon, may be the home of a frozen ocean!  How awesome is that?!?!

We also learned that Pluto has large frozen canyons near its North Pole!  Wow!  

My point in this post is to show that new discoveries on Pluto are still coming in eight months later and will continue to come in for months to come.  The New Horizons mission was, and still is, an amazingly successful mission!  Check in with NASA now and then to see what new images/discoveries are released!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Gross Science - YouTube Channel

Let's start the week with another great science related YouTube Channel.  This week's channel is Gross Science.

Gross Science - YouTube Channel

As the title suggests, Gross Science is all about, gross science!  Past videos include the topics of cavities and tooth decay, the Zika virus and mosquitoes, bacteria on contact lenses, and the distance sneezes and vomit travel.  Gross!  Yet full of science!

I discovered this channel a couple of months ago and have thoroughly enjoyed each video that comes out.  If you have a child, boy or girl, approaching puberty and need some advice discussing the topic of periods, there's a video on this discussing the science of periods.

Some science is gross, but there's much to be learned from the gross things in science.  

Friday, March 25, 2016

This Blog's History: SciShow YouTube Videos

In case you missed it last month I bring back to you today, for This Friday in This Blog's History, my post on SciShow, an excellent YouTube channel with an amazing selection of science videos.  You are guaranteed to learn something watching these videos!

SciShow YouTube Channel

Thursday, March 24, 2016


In the past on this blog I've shared my love of used bookstores.  I highly recommend taking your kids to a used bookstore for a fun hour or so of book searching!  Depending on where you live, however, you may not have a local used bookstore.  Used bookstores are not exactly a lucrative business.  Your typical used bookstore owner is not making it rich by selling used books for a couple of bucks a book.

There are other options for searching for used books and purchasing books at a much lower rate than the cover price.  Thriftbooks online is a great source for finding used books if you don't have a local used bookstore in your area.  You can find most used paperback books for around $3.60 a piece.  In addition, for orders of $10 or more you get free shipping.  Depending on the used bookstore, Thriftbooks may be more or less expensive.  It will also depend on the book.

Thiftbooks also offers a 15% off deal for all first time buyers.  Adding to this, if you setup up an account, for every $50 you spend, you get a $5 off coupon.  You don't have to spend $50 in a single order.  Your purchases are cumulative and add up over multiple orders. 

Don't get me wrong, I prefer local used bookstores, but if there isn't one available or the local store doesn't have the books you're looking for, Thriftbooks is another great, cheap option for the book lover in your family.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The HPV Vaccine

If you have a child nearing his/her upper elementary school years (around age 9 or 10), you've probably heard of the HPV vaccine and may even have questions as to whether you should have your child receive the vaccine.

For starters, what is HPV?  HPV stands for human papillomavirus which is not a single virus, but a group of 150+ viruses.  These viruses can cause genital warts and/or lead to several cancers, including cervical cancer in women.

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that one can contract with just one sexual partner.  The CDC estimates 80 million people in the United States have HPV with an additional 15 million new cases each year.  There's a relatively good chance that I have HPV and that you have HPV.  You may not even know it as most people never experience any symptoms.

So why is there a vaccine for HPV if it shows no symptoms?  The reason is that some people do show symptoms, typically genital warts.  However, some 27,000 men and women contract cancer as a direct result of HPV.  This is the reason for the necessity of a vaccine to prevent the spread of HPV before kids become sexually active.

The vaccine is most effective if administered to kids in the 9 - 12 year age group.  As of 2014, about 60% of girls aged 13-17 have received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine.  Three doses are needed for full coverage.  Only 40% of boys have received at least one dose of the vaccine.  Why the difference?  HPV is linked to cervical cancer, which doesn't occur in boys.  However, boys can spread HPV and can contract throat, anal, and penile cancer as a direct result of HPV.  HPV is usually associated with cervical cancer, but can also cause throat, anal, and penile cancer, all cancers boys can get too.

Why is the vaccination rate of HPV so low compared to other vaccinations?  One reason is the HPV vaccine is still relatively new, so some parents have not heard of it and therefore choose not to vaccinate.  Another reason commonly cited, unfortunately, is that HPV is a sexually transmitted disease and many (typically religious) people link the HPV vaccine as an open invitation for kids to have pre-marital sex.  This is a bunch of ridiculous nonsense.  Kids are going to have sex regardless of whether they have the HPV vaccine.

My oldest daughter is now 9 and will soon have her annual wellness appointment.  I'm not sure if the doctor will offer the HPV vaccine this year or next, but when he does, our decision is a no brainer.  She will receive the HPV vaccine because it will protect her future health.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why Do Pipes Burst in the Winter

Winter is coming to an end soon, which can't come soon enough if you are one of the unlucky people to have a pipe burst in your home this year.

Pipes can burst due to corrosion, but in the winter it is more common for pipes to burst due to freezing water.  When water freezes into ice, it expands.  Don't believe me?  Test it out yourself.  Put some water in a bowl or ice cube tray in the freezer.  The water will expand.  The volume of the ice cube will be greater than the volume of water.  

If water in your pipes freezes, it will expand.  This puts greater pressure on the inner walls of the pipe.  If the pressure is great enough, something has to give, and that's the pipe.  The pipe expands outward, and cracks, giving you a cracked pipe and a plumbing nightmare.

To avoid bursts pipes you need to keep the water from freezing.  Pipe insulation is the best way to do this.  If you have an older home, it's more likely the pipes are not well insulated or not as well insulated as newer homes.  Keeping pipes away from outside walls can help as well.  If you're leaving your home for a few days or weeks in the winter, don't turn off the heat.  Turn it down a bit, but don't turn it off.  Turning off the heat will result in lower temperatures at the location of the pipes and greatly increase the chance of a burst pipe.  

Monday, March 21, 2016

Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell: YouTube Channel

If you're like me, you can't get enough science in your day.  YouTube channels focusing on science are a great way to learn more science!  Here's another fantastic YouTube science channel that you MUST check out.

Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell

A few days ago I shared an excellent introduction to the Solar System video that came from this channel.  There's also a great white/red/brown/black dwarf video from this channel I showed to my astronomy class a few weeks back.

The great thing about this channel is that it takes complex science ideas and explains them in a very clear way to a general audience in just a few minutes.  The animations are great and the creators of the videos do a wonderful job keeping the attention of the audience.  A new video comes out every 3-4 weeks.  I look forward to their future videos!

If you're a fan of science YouTube channels, then this channel is for you!

Friday, March 18, 2016

This Blog's History: Green Bean Experiment Results

In case you missed it, for This Friday in This Blog's History I'm pointing you back to my post on my daughter's green bean experiment results.  She loved the project and had a ton of fun which makes it a successful science experiment!!!

Green Bean Experiment Results

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Saint Patrick's Day Science

It's Saint Patrick's Day and I thought I'd share with you a few Saint Patrick's Day themed science projects!

These are not experiments I came up with myself.  I did a google search for Saint Patrick's themed science science projects and this is what came up.  Find something that fits you and your family and have at it!

Cool Science Experiments: With a St. Patrick’s Day Theme

St. Patrick's Day Science Ideas

St. Patrick's Day Science Projects

5 Mischievous St. Patrick’s Day Science Experiments for Kids

If those don't float your boat, keep searching.  There is no shortage of Saint Patrick's Day themed science projects!  If your kids' school is on Spring Break, this day is a great opportunity to have some fun and learn some science!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

NASA Funding

In astronomy class I like to ask my students what they think about the funding NASA receives from the U.S. government.  That funding comes through the taxpayers in the form of taxes people pay into.  Is this funding adequate?  Should it be increased?  Decreased?  Why?  These are questions that spark a great deal of excellent discussion among students on both sides of the issue.  To discuss funding, it's important to understand how funding to NASA has changed over the years.  Here's a link I give to students that quickly shows the funding to NASA over the years.

NASA Budget

Adjusted for inflation, NASA had a FAR larger budget in the mid-1960s than it did today.  It is, however, a misconception that NASA currently has its lowest funding ever.  As a percentage of the federal budget that may be the case, but in total dollars, inflation adjusted, current NASA funding is greater than the late 1970s and most of the 1980s.  I'm not saying NASA funding should be decreased or held steady.  I'm firmly in the camp that NASA funding should be increased.  I'm just pointing out that although we hear NASA funding is low, it's not at its lowest point ever.  It would be great if funding increased to the mid-1960s level, inflation adjusted of course.  Imagine the missions that could be done with a doubled budget!

Talk to your kids about funding to NASA and see what they think!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

An Introduction to the Solar System - Video

As an astronomy teacher, if I had to make all videos and images from scratch, I would fail.  I'd spend so much time constructing videos/images and so little time focusing on the pedagogy of teaching astronomy that I'd be a failure as a teacher.  Fortunately there are so many amazing videos/images out there that I can devote myself to the pedagogy.  Take the Solar System for example.  I spend a full semester focusing on the different aspects of it, but like to give students a very brief overview to start the semester and give them an idea of what we'll be talking about.  I can do this by talking and/or trying to draw pictures on the board, but fortunately there are tools on the web to help me do this.  Just the other day I saw this awesome introduction to the Solar System video on YouTube.

An amazing video by "Kurzgesagty - In a Nutshell"!  I will definitely be using this in my first class of astronomy next semester.  It's a great video for kids too who have questions about the Solar System and what's out there and how everything works.  Watch it!  

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Story Collider Podcast

I've shared several science podcasts on this blog in the past, but it's been several months since I've discussed a new one.  The Story Collider Podcast is another great podcast in which scientists share their stories.  Sometimes these are the stories of someone's rise from childhood to adulthood and how science influenced their life.  Other times it's a funny or interesting story from a scientist's research career.  All episodes are great and they're relatively short.  We're all busy, but this podcast is usually no more than 15 minutes, making it easier to find time to listen.

As I write this, I'm actually listening to a recent Story Collider podcast with Saad Sarwana, a physicist.  Point your kids to this podcast and they'll have a better idea of how science influences people of different ages, education, and scientific fields.

Friday, March 11, 2016

This Blog's History: A New Planet?

Since this discovery may have been overshadowed by the discovery of gravitational waves, let me point you back to a short blog I wrote on the strong evidence for a new planet in our Solar System.  A new planet!  Wow!!!

A New Planet?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Star Trek: Enterprise

My daughters and I have been watching episodes of Star Trek:  The Next Generation together whenever we have the chance.  The other day we decided to try something new and they chose Star Trek:  Enterprise.

Prior to the other day, I had never seen an episode of Star Trek:  Enterprise, so it was an interesting experience.  Enterprise takes place before any of the other Star Trek series and focuses on Earth's first attempts to send humans out to explore the galaxy.

I'm not sure what I think.  I like it.  It is Star Trek, after all.  :-)  Of all the Star Trek series, my loyalties lie with The Next Generation.  My daughter's however loved Enterprise and are hooked on it after just a couple of episodes.  LOL!  In the end it doesn't matter.  Star Trek is awesome regardless of the series.

You can watch every episode of all series on Hulu!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

How to Find a Quality Travel Mug

I typically bring a coffee with me to work every day and drink it from a travel mug, such as those below that are currently on my desk.

Go Broncos!  :-)  Oh yeah, and visit Iceland.  It's an amazing country and an absolutely gorgeous place to vacation!  Okay, back to travel mugs.  What makes a travel mug a quality travel mug?  For starters, you don't want your travel mug falling apart after a few uses.  Just as important, you want you travel mug to keep your coffee warm for as long as possible.  How do you quickly tell if your travel mug is good at keeping your coffee warm?

Easy.  Poor the hot coffee in your travel mug and put the lid on.  Grab the side of your travel mug with one hand.  Does the mug feel very hot, warm, slightly warm, or room temperature?  If the mug feels very hot, this means the energy in the coffee is escaping and your travel mug is not doing a very good job of keeping your coffee hot.  If your hand barely feels warm or feels like room temperature, you have a great travel mug.  It's all about energy loss.  If your coffee is losing energy, its temperature will quickly drop.  If your coffee isn't losing energy, aside from what you drink, the temperature will stay high for a longer period of time.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

SciShow Space - YouTube Channel

A couple of weeks ago I shared with you a great science YouTube channel called SciShow.  A few days later I learned SciShow has a sister channel called SciShow Space.

SciShow Space

These videos are produced by the same group of people but focus on, you guessed it, space!  This is another fantastic YouTube channel filled with amazing space-themed science videos.  I learn something new in each video.

This is a PG channel, so there's no problem sharing this with your kids, regardless of age.  Watch a few videos with your kids and you'll open up a whole new world of space based science discussion in your home!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Solar Eclipse - March 8, 2016

Are you ready for the solar eclipse taking place tomorrow, March 8, 2016?  If you live in the continental U.S., sorry, you won't see anything.  However, if you live in Alaska or Hawaii, you are in the path to see a partial solar eclipse.  The eclipse will be more impressive in Hawaii than Alaska.  If you live in Hawaii, the partial solar eclipse begins around 4:30 PM local time and ends around 6:30 PM local time.  Here's the path of the eclipse across the globe:

The closer you are to the central dark line (path of totality), the more impressive the eclipse.  

Me?  I live in the Midwest U.S., so no eclipse for me this time.  I'm waiting for the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse with a path of totality that cuts across the Midwest U.S. fairly close to where I live.  I'll have to drive a bit to end up in the path of totality, but it will be worth it as long as it's not cloudy.  This will be the first opportunity for my daughters (and my wife and I) to personally witness a total solar eclipse in our lifetimes!!!  Can't wait!

Friday, March 4, 2016

This Blog's History: BrainCraft YouTube Videos

In case you missed it a few weeks ago, let me point you back, on This Friday in This Blog's History, to my original post on BrainCraft, an awesome YouTube channel with awesome science videos!!!  You WILL learn something watching these short videos!

BrainCraft - YouTube Channel

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Everything Comes in Threes

You've likely heard the saying that bad things comes in threes.  With the recent passing of the great David Bowie and Alan Rickman, there were several memes floating around that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, as two other famous British actors/entertainers, should watch out.  Sigh.

Is there any truth to the bad things come in threes saying?  No.  Not at all.  There's nothing in this world that causes three people to die near the same time.  It's all chance.  It's easy to say that bad things happen in threes because it's easy to change the parameters to make it so.  For example, if we're talking about the deaths of celebrities, what defines a celebrity?  How far down the celebrity list must we go to reach three deaths in a short period of time.  And what defines a short period of time?  An hour?  Day?  Week?  Month?

So yes, I can change the parameters to always make it true that bad things happen in threes, but by that argument, bad things also happen in twos, fours, five, seventy-fives, five thousand three hundred forty threes, not to mention ones!!!

The next time someone tells you that bad things happen in threes tell them that is nonsense, because it is.  And for the record, I'm not ready to see Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen go just yet!  It was hard enough losing Alan Rickman as an actor!  But things don't happen in threes, so Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen have many more tricks up their sleeves to amaze us all!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

CrazyRussianHacker - YouTube

There are a great number of science YouTube channels out there.  The CrazyRussianHacker is a guy with a Russian accent who produces short videos showing off science experiments.  He is clearly excited about science and enjoys sharing science.  The videos are usually only a few minutes in length, so something that won't take much of your time.  In addition, many of the experiments he does do not require fancy equipment so you can likely do them in your own home.  I've bookmarked several of his video to later share and do with my daughters at home.

I encourage you to check this channel out and point your kids to it.  These videos are just one more tool to get kids excited about science!  Getting your kids excited about science at a young age will result in adults excited about science!  Adults excited about science vote for politicians who support science.  This results in a better society for all of us.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Potato Spud Experiment

About 6 to 8 weeks ago my girls and I placed potatoes in different locations around the house to determine if spuds on potatoes grow differently in different conditions.  Potatoes were placed in the following four locations:

1. Bathroom - Warmer and humid.
2. Interior closet - Dark and room temperature.
3. Living room by heat vent - Exposed to warmer air coming from vent.
4. Refrigerator - Cooler temperatures.

Here are our results, starting with the bathroom potato.

This potato had an interesting spud growth coming out of one end, but very few spuds anywhere else.  The potato was slightly squishy.  Next, here's the potato next to the heat vent.

The heat vent potato had the greatest effect, becoming very shriveled up and showing a few larger spud growth regions.  Next is the potato in the dark closet.

This potato was still relatively hard and showed a few regions of very tiny spud growth.  Cut off these small spuds and the potato is probably still good to eat.  Last is the potato in the fridge.

This potato was still hard and showed no spud growth.

So what do our results mean?  Potatoes are best stored in a dark, cooler (but not cold) place.  As expected, the potatoes placed near warm air or in a humid environment (bathroom) showed the greatest effect.  The potato in the closet (dark, but not cool) showed a few effects.  The potato in the fridge should no spud growth, as expected given the cool conditions.  

Try this out at home with your own kids and look for other environments to put a potato in to study spud growth.