Friday, April 29, 2016

This Blog's History: Why Do Pipes Freeze in the Winter?

In case you missed it earlier, for This Friday in This Blog's History, I point you back to a post in which I explained why water pipes in your home can freeze in the winter.  It is now spring and we are quickly approaching summer, but before you know it, winter will be here again.  Read more at:

Why Do Pipes Freeze in the Winter

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Science Clothing

A cool way to further immerse yourself or your kids in science is through the purchasing and wearing of science themed clothing!  For example, my 9 year old owns and frequently wears the following T-shirt.

Unfortunately it is now small on her despite our continued commands as parents to tell her to stop growing!  LOL!  Oh well, we'll just have to find new science themed clothes for her to wear.  I recently helped fund a Kickstarter campaign and as a result received the following long sleeve T-shirt.

Carl Sagan!  How awesome is that?!?!  Call me a nerd or geek for liking science themed clothing, but understand that I take that as a compliment!  You and your kids can be cool too by adding some science themed clothing to your wardrobe.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Putty Lights

At a science experiment demo show at a museum my daughters had the wonderful opportunity to build simple circuits using tiny light bulbs and putty.

The box in the upper right is a battery, with two wires coming out (black and red).  The two wires are connected to different parts of a ball of green putty which has tiny LED light bulbs stuck in it.  The wires from the battery are NOT connected to the wires of the LED lights, yet the lights are still lit up.  Why?  The putty is acting as a conductor of electricity.  The current supplied by the battery travels through the putty to the wires attached to the LED lights.  As long as there are no breaks in the connection anywhere, the LED lights will light up.  Super cool!

You can do something similar with potatoes, lemons, and other household objects.  I'm adding this to the list of science experiments to test out this summer with my kids.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Moving Pepper in Water Experiment

The "Moving Pepper in Water" science experiment is a very cool experiment you can do with your kids in just a few minutes that requires materials you most likely already have in your house.  You need pepper (flakes from a pepper shaker), liquid dish soap, a Q-tip, and water.  That's it!  Begin by filling up a container of water.  We used a standard baking dish.  Spread several flakes of pepper on the surface of the water.  On a separate plate, spread a tiny amount of liquid dish soap.  Spread a little bit of the dish soap on the end of a Q-tip.  Then carefully place the soap soaked end of the Q-tip in the water and observe.  Here's the video I took of my 5 and 9 year old doing this experiment.

Very cool!  Notice how the pepper flakes quickly move to the edges of dish, away from the Q-tip?  Awesome!  Now, the important part.  Why does this happen?  Why do the pepper flakes move?  The pepper flakes are sitting on the surface of the water and water has a certain amount of surface tension.  The surface tension of liquid dish soap differs.   It is less than that of water.  Once the soap makes contact with the water, the pepper flakes, attached to the surface of water with greater surface tension rush away from the soap toward the edges of the dish.  Super cool!  Try it at home.  If your kids are like mine, they'll be amazed and want to try it several times!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Serial Podcast

I'm a podcast junkie, something that is no surprise to regular readers of this blog.  The "Serial" podcast has been on my to-listen to list for some time, but I've held off on actually listening to the episodes.  Recently, on a 10 hour drive across the Midwest U.S. I decided to binge listen the first season.  Wow!  An excellent podcast!

Serial is not a science podcast per-se, but includes a great deal of questioning and true investigative journalism.  This is not all that different from science where questions are asked and an investigation is undertaken to attempt to answer the questions.

The first season of Serial details the arrest and conviction of Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee in 1999.  Syed continues to claim innocence.  The podcast is produced by the producers of "This American Life" podcast, another good podcast.  The investigators show no bias.  They simply ask questions and investigate, looking for answers.  The first season of Serial contains 12 episodes, all of which are between 30 and 60 minutes in length.  I won't give anything away, but the season leaves you with many questions that simply do not have answers at this time.  Excellent podcast!

The second season, which I have yet to listen to, focuses on Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier imprisoned by the Taliban for 5 years before being released.  The controversy behind this story is that he is accused of willingly abandoning his post in Afghanistan and thus should not be celebrated.  I'm waiting for the season to finish with plans to then binge listen!

Friday, April 22, 2016

This Blog's History: The HPV Vaccine

In case you missed it the first time, here's the original link to my post on the HPV vaccine.  I'm a big proponent of receiving vaccines on the recommended schedule and this holds true for the HPV vaccine.  Science supports the safety and health benefits of this vaccine and my kids will definitely receive it when they are of age.  For more of my thoughts, please click the link below to read my original post on the subject.

The HPV Vaccine

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Life Noggin - YouTube Science Videos

Life Noggin is a fantastic YouTube Science Channel I discovered a few weeks ago.  The videos are short, typically in the 2 - 3 minute range, yet packed full of excellent science!

Recent videos include topics such as why we cry, why we have leap years, and why we forget our dreams.  Excellent videos with excellent descriptions to all questions discussed.  This is one of those YouTube channels that may have answers to questions your kids ask that you don't have the answer to.  I encourage you to check it out and show it to your kids!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Good Dinosaur - Move Review

A while back I posted a few comments on the trailer to the movie "The Good Dinosaur".  At the time I thought it looked like an interesting movie but had a few problems with the science in the trailer.  Recently we had the opportunity to watch the full movie.  As family we enjoyed the movie and had a fun family evening together.  It's a fun movie to watch and if you haven't, rent it and turn it into a family night.

My focus for this post is the first minute of the movie.  The rest was great.  Obviously the science of humans acting like dogs and dinosaurs acting like humans is incorrect, but that was the point of the movie so I won't be focusing on that.

The premise of the movie is that the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs (now we have evidence there were other things going on and the asteroid strike probably had the effect of increasing and quickening those other things) missed Earth and the dinosaurs survive.  Here are my problems.

1.  The movie starts with the Solar System's asteroid belt shown.  The asteroid belt is shown as VERY densely packed with large asteroids.  Asteroids are bumping into each other and one is knocked off orbit and heads toward Earth.

  • The asteroid belt is NOT very densely packed.  There are more asteroids in this region than other regions of the Solar System, but there are still millions of miles on average between individual asteroids.
  • Yes, asteroids can collide, but not at the frequency shown in the movie.  
  • Yes, there are large asteroids in the belt, but these are few in number.  Most asteroids are very small.  Only a few are very large.  The movie shows mostly large asteroids.
2.  The asteroid in the movie zips by, very close to Earth, in a straight line.
  • No, this is not how gravity works.  An asteroid zipping by close to Earth will not travel in a straight line as it passes.  Earth's gravity will bend the path of the orbit toward the Earth.  The asteroid may not strike the Earth, but the path of the asteroid will bend a bit toward it.
To conclude, I enjoyed this movie.  My kids enjoyed this movie.  The opening scenes, however, portray an image of the asteroid belt that is simply not true.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Water Filter Experiment

About a month ago at a science exhibit in a museum my daughters had the cool opportunity to build basic water filters to filter dirty water in an attempt to make it drinkable.  The theme of this particular exhibit was the possible future colonization of Mars and necessity to acquire drinking water.

Participants were given a class of "dirty" water.  If I remember correctly the water was made "dirty" by mixing it with a chocolate mix of some kind.  The goal was to create a filter out of available materials, such as porous rocks and sand.  Below is the filter my 9 year old created.

As you an see, the brown water is definitely a dirty water that does not look drinkable.  The "dirty" water was poured into a cup filled with porous rocks and sand and is slowly filtering into the cup below.  Below is the result of the filter my 5 year old created.

Not too bad!  The water is slowly filtering into the cup below.  The filtered water isn't quite clear and is certainly not considered drinkable, but this very simple water filter is doing a relatively good job of filtering out a large percentage of particles!  

We didn't have a lot of time to improve our filter, so this summer I have plans of doing this again with my girls, using materials we have around the house.  Should be a fun time!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Mill City Museum

During a recent visit to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, where I lived for five years as a grad student, I visited the Mill City Museum near the downtown Minneapolis area.  At one time Minneapolis was the world's largest producer of flower and the Mill City Museum is the location of an old flour plant.

This is not a large museum by any means, but has several activities for kids and does a fantastic job explaining the flour production process and the history of flour production in Minnesota.  There's also an elevator tour up to the 9th and 10th floors where you can get a good view of the surrounding landscape and see the remaining structure of this old flour production site.

If you have a free morning or afternoon, I encourage you to check out this museum.  It's very cool and very informative.  It took me about 90 minutes to complete both the self and guided tours.  

Friday, April 15, 2016

This Blog's History: The Potato Spud Experiment

For This Friday in This Blog's History I'm re-sharing with you the potato spud experiment my daughters and I did at home.  This experiment is easy to do and simply requires potatoes.  The results are interesting!

The Potato Spud Experiment

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Coding for Kids

While at a recent science exhibit event at Conner Prairie in Fishers, Indiana, my daughters got a very basic lesson in computer hardware and coding.  On the table was a desktop computer tower with the shell open for kids to peer inside.  The person at the table explained the basics of computer hardware which was a neat thing for the kids as they had never seen the inside of a computer before.

Also at this table was a very basic coding introduction in which kids made bracelets and/or necklaces of their names in binary code.  Very cool!

As you can see in the image above, there were sheets of binary code for each letter of the alphabet that my girls used as a guide to make their 'name' necklace.  They were both excited and thought this was very cool!

This summer when we have more time I plan on introducing both girls to basic coding.  There are several websites I've bookmarked so I first need to go through them and find the best ones.  It'll be one of many things we do this summer, but I want them to have some basic coding experience at a young age.  I never did any coding as a kid and I regret not taking any coding classes in college.  I did some coding in grad school, but had to learn everything from scratch and was never fully comfortable with it.  Coding is a great skill to have and can lead to further opportunities in the future for those who have the skills.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Minnesota History Center

Over my Spring Break last month I had the opportunity to visit the Minnesota History Center located in St. Paul, Minnesota.  My kids were still in school so they were unable to make the trip, but I've concluded that this is a fantastic museum that I will one day bring my kids to visit.

The Minnesota History Center, which includes both a museum and a library, has several different history exhibits, including one that rotates on a regular basis.  I spent about two hours browsing through the exhibits and thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

I lived in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area for five years as a grad student and never made a visit to this history museum.  Boy did I miss out!  I hope an opportunity presents itself to take my daughters to this museum as I think they would enjoy it.
If you ever find yourself in the area, take time to visit this museum for a morning or afternoon.  St. Paul also has a great downtown area with other things to do (they have a fantastic science museum) as well as many amazing places to eat!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Incredible Science YouTube Videos

Another great science YouTube channel is IncredibleScience.


IncredibleScience Vlogs

This guy has two different channels he posts videos to.  Check them both out.

Not only does this guy share science experiment videos, but he has a young baby, a few months old, that are part of his videos.  These videos have a more personal touch to them and although this doesn't make them better than other science channel videos, it does but a different twist on them.  Check it out.  I think you'll like this channel!

Monday, April 11, 2016

How Do 18 Speed Bikes Work?

For my daughter's 9th birthday my wife and I gave her a new bike as she had outgrown her old bike.  At her age and height, most bikes are speed bikes with gears that can be changed for increased speed or ease of pedaling.  We ended up choosing an 18 speed bike that has 3 front gears and 6 back gears.

How do gears work?  You switch the front and back gears by turning the left and right handle bars.  That's easy enough, but why does this change the ease of pedaling or make it harder to pedal?  If you take a look at the gears you'll notice they are different sizes.  Turning the handle bar moves the chain from a smaller to larger gear or vice versa.

If you're trying to pedal uphill, you may find that it is increasingly harder to pedal the bike, so you can downshift to a lower gear (smaller sized gear) for easier pedaling.  You have to pedal more to keep the bike moving at the same speed, but the pedaling is easier.  This is the trade-off.  It's easier to pedal, but you must pedal more.  The opposite is true if you shift to higher (larger) gear.  It's not as easy to pedal, but you don't have to pedal as much to maintain a specific speed.  

Getting your first 'speed' bike is a rite of passage in childhood and my 9 year old loves it!  Fortunately the weather has been nice and she's already been able to get out and ride it several times!

Friday, April 8, 2016

This Blog's History: The Story Collider Podcast

For This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to a post I wrote regarding The Story Collider podcast.  An excellent podcast you should listen to!  Great stories and usually no longer than 15 - 20 minutes per episode.  You've got time for that!

The Story Collider Podcast

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Car Odometer Reading - 100,000 Miles

Just the other day my car, at about 13 years old, crossed the 100,000 mile mark on the odometer.  I was at the grocery store, just leaving when it hit 99,999 miles.  When I pulled the car into my garage, it read exactly 100,000 miles!

Sweet!  Or is it?  What are the odds of pulling into the garage with 100,000 miles on the odometer.  It must be one out of one hundred thousand or 0.001%, right?  Actually no.  That may seem like very low odds, but consider the number of times I've pulled the car into the garage with a different odometer reading?  A lot!  Let me do a quick estimate.  Let's assume I drive every day.  Some days I leave the house more than once, others not at all, so not a bad assumption.  This means that over 13 years, I've pulled the car into the garage a total of 13*365 = 4,745 times.  Each time there is a different reading on the odometer.  Over 100,000 miles, this gives an approximate chance of pulling into the garage at 100,000 miles of 4,475/100,000 = 4.475%.  Still low, but not all that low.  That's closing in on a 1 in 20 chance, much greater than a 1 in 100,000 chance.  

We consider the number 100,000 on a car's odometer as something special, but it's really no more special than an odometer reading of 115,821 miles or 34,291 miles.  The odds are the same, but we perceive certain numbers to be more special than others.  Case in point, I took a picture of my car's odometer at 100,000.  I've never taken a picture of my car's odometer reading anything else, but 100,000 miles is no more special than any other number.

What does all of this mean?  Not much, other than humans are weird.  :-)    

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Flip Toy

At my kids' last dentist visit they each picked out one of these flip toys (sorry, don't know the real name of these toys) shown below.

When inverted, as shown in the image below, the toy will sit for a couple of seconds and then flip a couple of feet into the air!

What's going on here?  When inverted, the toy will eventually revert back to it's original shape.  When it does, the rubber inverts very quickly, applying a downward force on the surface the toy is lying on.  Newton's third law states that for every force there is an equal and opposite force.  There is a strong downward force on the floor/table, resulting in the floor/table pushing upward on the object, causing it to fly in the air.  Very cool!

The best part of these toys is experimenting with different surfaces.  Which surface causes the toy to fly highest in the air?  It's also fun testing one of these flip toys as it sits on another object, such as another flip toy!  Does it fly higher in the air off a rubber surface or a hard surface?  The results might surprise you.

The moral of the story here is that there's plenty of science to be found in cheap, five cent toys such as these!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Conner Prairie Interactive History Park

The other week my family and I had the opportunity to visit Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Fishers, Indiana.  The reason for our visit is the park/museum was holding a big science event for kids.  The indoor reception areas were filled with tables of different science activities (more on this in future posts).  On a regular day, however, the park serves as a museum of sorts sharing the history of the area dating back to before the Civil War.  Their mission statement, from the website, states:

"We are one of the largest attractions in the region and one of the most visited outdoor museums in the country. We have a long history of innovation that spans the fields of science, history, art, and nature. On our grounds, every guest has the opportunity to pursue fun and knowledge in a way that is tailored to them.

In a time where meals are rushed and everyone is in a hurry to get to soccer practice or ballet class, we provide families with multi-generational opportunities to come together, interact and learn in new and unique ways in the heart of Indiana. Each and every day, we inspire curiosity and foster meaningful interaction with unique, engaging experiences that don’t exist anywhere else."

There's a huge outdoor area setup to display different historical time periods.  There are prairie style homes, farm animals, farm equipment, etc. from different time periods.  It was winter during our visit, so the outdoor areas were closed.  That was okay as our goal was to involve ourselves in the science activities inside.  When summer gets here we'll make a return trip to check out the other areas.  It looks very cool!!!

For more information on Conner Prairie, check out their website.

Monday, April 4, 2016

This Blog's History: The Hole in Your Hand Experiment

For This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to a post in which I described a very simple illusion based science experiment.  Through a simple process you can make it appear as if there is a hole in your hand.  To find out how, click through to the original post using the link below.

Hole in Your Hand Experiment

MinuteEarth - YouTube Channel

This week's YouTube channel to share is MinuteEarth, a fantastic channel that makes amazing videos explaining complicated science topics in very understandable ways using cartoons!  As the title suggests, the videos are very short, usually no more than two minutes in length.  

Past videos include explanations on why mushrooms help it rain, evolution as it relates to fish, mass extinctions, and many more!  

I highly, highly recommend you add this channel to your list of must watch science videos.  It only takes a minute (or two)!!!

Friday, April 1, 2016

This Blog's History: Cooking at Higher Altitudes

In case you missed it, for This Friday in This Blog's History I'm re-sharing with you my post on the science of cooking at higher altitudes.  Although most of the world's population lives closer to sea-level, there's still a significant portion of the population living at higher altitudes where it is important to alter cooking times.  Why?  You'll have to read the original post to get the answer!

Cooking at High Altitudes