Thursday, December 5, 2013

How Science Changed the World in 2013
Mashable's "10 Innovations That Improved the Word in 2013" list is out, and some of the innovations you have to see to believe.

Topping the list at number one is the lab grown hamburger. Yes, you read that right: lab grown. It may have cost $330,000 to develop, but thanks to a major investment from Google co-founder Sergey Brin the world saw its first lab grown burger in August. It took researchers at the Netherland's Maastricht University five years to develop the patty, which was created using 20,000 protein strands grown from stem cells taken from a cow's shoulder. Hello, scientific solution to the increasing global demand for meat!

Google Glass is number two and the beef tendon condom is a strong number three, though the invisible bike helmet that doubles as an airbag at number eight is impressive. Hovdig is a discreet helmet cyclists wear around their necks that inflates like an airbag in the event of an accident. While skeptics think this option sounds a bit riskier than a traditional bike helmet, Hovdig claims its not-so-noticeable helmet offers the best shock absorption in the world.

Just about finishing out the list at number nine is a tremor-reducing spoon for people with Parkinson's.  Check out the entire list. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Science: Why You Really Can't Blame the Bird

As you gear up for Thanksgiving, everyone normally pictures something along these lines: Indulge in a big meal centered on a turkey prepared to your liking, move things to the couch and watch football while you eat dessert and then start nodding off before the 7:30 game even kicks off. It's not breaking news that catching the holiday bug can be exhausting, but blaming your afternoon nap on the turkey is all wrong, say scientists.

NBC News reports that sure, turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid that produces the brain chemical serotonin, known to cause calm and sleepiness. But the amount of tryptophan in turkey is extremely small, and other amino acids commonly in the Thanksgiving meal actually block tryptophan's entry to the brain!

Scientists say that the infamous Thanksgiving nap has more to do with missing out on sleep, drinking alcohol and working hard to digest the carb-loaded meal than it does the turkey. So turkeys everywhere urge you: stop blaming your lazy afternoon and casual post-meal nap on the them.

For more bites of Thanksgiving science to chew on, including how science "built" a better turkey and how science created a better balloon, check out NBC News.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Experiment: Haunted, Screaming Cup!

If you think haunted houses are scary, you're definitely going to want to make haunted drinkware tonight! If you'd rather scare than be scared, invite some friends over and get them spooked by making the cup scream where they can't see it!

Here's what you'll need:
  • A plastic drinking cup
  • Yarn or cotton string (nylon string won't work as well)
  • 1 paper clip
  • 1 paper towel
  • 1 nail
  • Scissors 
  • Water
Not let's get started!
  1. Cut a piece of yarn that measures about 20 inches.
  2. Carefully punch a hole in the center of the bottom of the cup with the nail.
  3. Tie one end of the yarn to the middle of the paper clip.
  4. Push the other end of the yarn through the hole you punched in the bottom of the cup and pull it through.
  5. Get a piece of paper towel about the size of a dollar bill. Fold it once and get it damp in the water.
  6. Now it's time to make the cup scream! Hold the cup firmly in one hand and wrap the damp paper towel around the string near the cup. While you squeeze the string, pull down in one continuous motion so that the paper towel tightly slides along the string.
What about the science? This is how a sounding board works. The vibrations from the string would practically be mute without the cup, but when you add the cup, it spreads the vibrations and amplifies them.

Check out Science Bob's video of this experiment. Here, he pulls the string in short jerks to make it sound like a chicken.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Economic Stimulus Package Advances Science

Though the economic stimulus didn't do much for those actually suffering during the recession, it did pave the way for some great memories in the field of science. When scientists look back on the Great Recession, they'll think of better solar panel technology, a move toward an HIV vaccine and a hive of robotic bees.

As Katie Worth of Slate reports, those are just some of the advances that were made when the government started pumping megabucks into science while trying to reverse an economic downturn at the beginning of 2009. 

Of the $800 billion in stimulus funds, one third of it tried to create jobs and invest in infrastructure and innovation by funding shovel-ready projects - or in the case of science, microscope-ready projects. This led The National Science Foundation to the purchase of a long-wanted Arctic research vessel. NASA spent around $160 million designing a next-generation crewed space shuttle. Close to every research university in America scored new lab equipment. The cancer genome was expanded and electric cars were improved.

For all the scientific projects that lacked validation, there were others that would benefit the country in the long run: The world's largest photovoltaic solar plant and wind farm were financed. Research tested new treatment strategies for Alzheimer's disease.

All of the stimulus grant money had to be spent by Sept. 30, and any unspent money had to be returned to the government. Of course there were a handful of exceptions.

So now that the stimulus money has been put to use, the question remains: Did it stimulate? If you ask the government, they'll say yes. The main goal of the stimulus was to create jobs and it certainly did that.

The stimulus also silently spurred advances in science and healthcare. The agencies and organizations that received and dished out the funds say that the results speak for themselves. The National Institutes for Health (NIH), for example, received more than $10 billion and developed new strategies for the treatment of alcoholism, better approaches to fight childhood obesity and a new national database for autism research just to name a few. Even better, the stimulus money and extra projects created more jobs within NIH.

Though it's up for speculation, it's important to note that had the projects not been funded by the government through the stimulus, it's possible they wouldn't have been funded for quite a while.

To check out some of the projects that angered conservatives (like the measuring of duck genitalia, a study on how men feel about condoms and a different study that gave cocaine to monkeys) check out Worth's full report. Here you can also find commentary from experts and other projects that advanced the science realm. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Discover the Microscopic World!

You have a microscope and you've gone through the basics and know how to use it, but you don't have a lot of stuff to examine - or so you think. You'd be surprised at the the number of things just laying around your house that become fascinating specimen when magnified and explored through the lens of your microscope. Here are some of our favorite suggestions:
  1. Fibers: Pull out a few individual fibers from different fabrics like cotton, nylon, rayon, silk, wool, etc. Place them one-by-one on the center of a slide and add a drop of water and a cover slip. Examine each fiber under different light and objective settings to see what you discover.
  2. Hair: Noticing the differences in hairs can be one of the coolest things to do with your microscope. Examine different types of hair - naturally curly, permanently waved, blonde, brown, red, grey, etc. Check out the difference when the hair is void of oils after dipping your specimen strand in alcohol or soapy water. Compare human hair to that of other mammals.
  3. Paper: Place the torn edge of a piece of paper under the microscope. Light it from above with a flashlight or lamp and then focus in on the torn edge. What do you see? Compare different types of paper.
  4. Crystals: Place a few crystals of table salt (NaCl) or sugar on a slide and view after adjusting for the best illumination. (Remember: too much light will not reveal much detail.) Slip a piece of black paper beneath the crystals and use side lighting from a lamp or flashlight. What do the crystals look like now?
  5. Currency: Examine a dollar bill under various magnifications of the microscope. Compare the fine detail of the engraving process to that of paper play money. We took a look at some currency ourselves - take a look at our picture above!
  6. Colored Pictures: Look at a colored postcard or picture from a magazine. What are you surprised to see?
  7. Pond Water: Stationary water like pond water is always one of the favorite sources of microscopic organisms for many people. You will find some incredible changes in the kinds of organisms present over several weeks or months.
For lesson plans and more formal activities that you can do with your microscope, click here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Kitchen Experiment: Magic Ketchup

What would your little minds think if you told them that they could make a pack of ketchup float and sink at their command while it was sealed inside a one liter bottle? I know, they'd tell you that that was impossible! Lucky for you, you can work with them to prove them wrong and teach them a little about buoyancy and density in the process. Sounds like a win-win to me.

So let's get started! Here's what you'll need:
  • 1 liter plastic bottle
  • Ketchup packet from a fast food restaurant
  • Salt (using Kosher salt will keep your water from become foggy)
Here's what you'll do:
  1. Remove all labels from the plastic bottle and fill it to the top with water.
  2. Add the ketchup pack to the bottle.
  3. If the ketchup packet floats, you're ready to move on to step four. If the ketchup packet doesn't float and starts to sink, skip to step five.
  4. For the floating ketchup packet, simply screw the cap on the bottle and squeeze the sides of the bottle hard. If the ketchup sinks when you squeeze it and floats when you release it, you're in business and ready to show off your magical powers! If it doesn't sink when  you squeeze the bottle, try a different ketchup packet or a mustard or soy sauce packet.
  5. If the ketchup packet sunk when you put it in the bottle, add around 3 tbsp. of salt to the bottle and shake it until the salt dissolves.
  6. Continuing adding sale a few tablespoons at a time until the ketchup packet is just barely floating at the top.
  7. Once it's consistently floating, make sure the bottle is filled to the top with water and then cap it tightly.
  8. Now squeeze the bottle. The magic ketchup should sink when you squeeze the bottle and float up when you release it. If you get really good, you can get it to stop in the middle of the bottle!
So how does it work? What' behind the magic? This entire experiment revolves around two things: buoyancy and density. Buoyancy describes whether objects float or sink and density deals with the amount of mass in an object. Adding salt to the water adjusted its density and got the ketchup packet to float. There is a little bubble inside of the ketchup packet and, since we know bubbles float, this bubble is what keeps the packet from sinking. But when you squeeze the bottle, you put pressure on the packet that results in  the bubble getting smaller and the packet becoming more dense. Thus, it sinks. When you release the pressure the bubble expands, the packet becomes less dense and more buoyant and floats back to the top.

To take this experiment to the next level, try answering these questions:
  1. Do different food packets (ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, relish, mayo, etc.) have the same density?
  2. Does the temperature of the water affect the density of the ketchup packet?
  3. Does the size of the bottle affect how much you have to squeeze to get the packet to sink?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Zombies & STEM: Coming to a Classroom Near You

Photo courtesy of STEM Behind Hollywood
When all else fails, turn to the undead, right? For many teachers trying to boost student interest in STEM, that's exactly right. Thanks to a new program created by the National Academy of Science and Texas Instruments, teachers now have STEM lessons based on zombies, superheroes, space and forensics to present to their middle and high school students. It looks like the undead could be exactly what the suffering subjects need to bring them back to life.

I know what you're thinking: the concept is too far-fetched to work. Maybe not. STEM Behind Hollywood begins their four-part activity with zombies and a hypothetical virus infecting humans. As reported in Forbes last week, in the part of the activity, students can observe a zombie's behavior and deduce that something is wrong with the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls walking. From there, they can work to understand how a healthy brain works and reverse engineer a zombie brain.

STEM Behind Hollywood is hoping for what all STEM initiatives have hoped for in recent years: a boost in curiosity and excitement about STEM careers. The Department of Labor estimates a 17 percent jump in these fields by 2018, so the fact that teen interest among them is declining is hard to hear.

Nonetheless, the new program seems to be staggering in the right direction. STEM Behind Hollywood is available to teachers and students on a free TI-Nspire software trial, but those who purchased the graphing calculator get the software included at no extra charge. There's also an iPad app.

After going live on Aug. 8, the program has already seen 2,300 downloads and the zombie program is underway to go live later this fall with other developed themes. Texas Instruments is in works to extend the program through 2014.

To read more about the program, what else is our there like it and to see commentary from the president of Texas Instruments and educators implementing STEM Behind Hollywood in their classroom, check out Emily Canal's full report

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Research Shows Men & Women Do See Things Differently

We all know men and women think differently. Who's judgement is normally better - well, that's up for debate. Nonetheless, recent research suggests that opposite genders really do see things differently - particularly when it comes to colors.  In this month's issue of Headline Discoveries, Joe Giacobello reported that women are better at distinguishing among subtle color differences, while men have greater sensitivity to fine detail and rapidly moving, distant objects.

So let's get down right brainy. Scientists say that there are high concentrations of androgen - the male sex hormone receptors - in the visual cortex of the brain, which is responsible for processing images and explains their sensitivity. 

When it comes to knowing colors, women are who you want to talk to. Isreal Abramov and his research team at CUNY's Brooklyn College conducted a series of visual tests on men and women at both the high school and college level. Among other things, Abramov and his team found that women detected tiny differences between yellows that looked the same to men.

So why do men and women see differently. Can it really all be attributed to hormones in the brain? Not exactly. As stated in Headline Discoveries, a possible, but highly speculative explanation for why the sexes see different is for evolutionary advantages. Back in the hunter-gatherer societies, the males needed to see predators or prey in the distance while women had to detect subtle color differences while scouring for edible plants. An interesting perspective id we do say so ourselves.

To read the full article and to check out follow up questions that can be used for classroom discussion, click here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

STEM Interest Among Teens Declining?

CBS News reported yesterday that STEM interest among teens is actually declining. This may seem strange given the economy's current state and the difficulty finding a job many members of the younger generation are facing, but experts at the Partnership for a New American Economy project say that there will be a shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree STEM workers by 2018.

At a time when most buzz about STEM and the initiatives in place to make it more exciting and relevant in today's schools is positive, this comes as a total downer. As stated in the CBS News report, the Partnership for a New American Economy project's Junior Achievement USA and ING U.S. Foundation teamed up to survey 1,025 teens about their career plans. This is the 12th year that they have conducted the survey, and nearly half of the students ranked STEM and medical-related fields as their top choice. Forty-six percent sounds encouraging, but that is a 15 percent decline from the 2012 survey, when 61 percent of students considered STEM their top choice.

So what's happening? Where is the disconnect between efforts being made to make STEM the go-to choice for student interest and actual student interest? Are U.S. students just simply more interested in other fields than they are STEM fields?

As CBS explains, regardless of whether there is a shortage, the first step in developing a deeper American talent pool is bolstering student interest in STEM fields. The question now: how are we going to do that?

It appears we may to go back to the drawing board, reevaluate current initiatives and efforts and implement some changes.

Check out the full CBS News report for detailed commentary on the topic and more information.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Telling Whiskeys Apart Scientifically

PopSci reported earlier today that food science researchers at the University of California at Davis have been studying different whiskies to determine whether they can tell them apart, scientifically. Though determining the difference between a Scotch and Irish whiskey isn't as easy as determining the difference between Scottish and American English accents, the university's research director Thomas Collins explained today at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting that they're well on their way.

As reported by PopSci, Collins said, "Right now, we can do a pretty good job of separating, for example, Scotch whiskies from bourbons and other American whiskeys and also Canadian and Irish whiskeys. When you narrow it down into whiskeys from a particular region, the process gets a little more difficult because they're more similar to each other," Collins explained during the talk which was recorded by the American Chemical Society

In the future, Collins hopes that he and his team can relay to distillers best practices that make for the best whiskey. Right now, distinguishing one whiskey from another is all about chemical reactions! The major chemicals that Collins' team uses to tell whiskeys apart include some that come from grain, some from the fermentation process and some from the wood barrel in which whiskey ages.

To find out how many concentrated chemicals are used to determine any two given whiskeys from one another or to figure out how many whiskeys Collins and his team analyzed, read the full PopSci report.

Friday, September 6, 2013

'Science' Moving on Up as Most Important School Subject

There's good news for all you science lovers out there: a new Gallup poll finds that three times as many Americans now say science is the most valuable school subject (MVS) than did so more than a decade ago. As reported by LiveScience on Mashable, science bumped out history for the third spot behind No. 1 math and No. 2 language arts as the school subject that has been most valuable to Americans' lives. This is exciting news!

In the new Gallup poll conducted earlier this month (Aug. 7-11), 12 percent of respondents mentioned "science/physics/biology" as the MVS. In the same poll conducted in 2002, a mere 4 percent felt the same way.

Interestingly enough, it appears that education and gender played a part in affecting people's answers. Respondents who had high levels of education were less likely to choose math as the MVS. Likewise, men were more apt than women to give math the top spot - 40 percent versus 28 percent, respectively. Men were also more likely than women to choose science as most valuable.

The poll results are based on phone interviews with a random sample of 2,059 Americans, ages 18 and over, from all 50 U.S. states and Washington D.C. Results were weighted so they were nationally representative. Further, respondents were allowed to look back at their entire education when gauging the value of subjects, including elementary all the way through postgraduate school.

For more information on the poll results and to see specific excerpts and statements from the Galllup statement, check out the Mashable article. The importance of science is making a name for itself and we're moving in the right direction!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Pass Rate on Math & Science AP Tests Rise

In an article published by McClatchy last week, Renee Schoof reported that the pass rate on rigorous Advanced Placement tests went up by 72 percent last year at high schools that took part in a National Math and Science Initiative program that trains teachers and gives students extra help on Saturdays.

The proof is in the puddin'. That being said, with statistics like the one above, what could possibly be argued about the initiative other than it's working for U.S. students? The article elaborates and states that the program has been especially helpful in boosting success for girls and minority students - groups that initiative CEO Sara Martinez Tucker says have been under-represented in advanced math and science classes.

Supporters, participants and teachers involved in the initiative's training says that the program raises expectations. It looks as though when teachers are stepping up their game in the classroom, students feel inclined to do the same. Why the program hasn't made its way on to more campuses is practically shocking.

Last year. the initiative was in place in 462 schools in 18 states, about two percent of the nation's schools. It will be added in schools in Mississippi, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Arkansas this year. Each participating school receives the extra support for three years at a cost of $500,000 per school. Some districts receive funding as a grant from the group, which gets support from foundations, corporations and the U.S. Department of Education. 

The program began five years ago and has improved the pass rates on the AP tests every year! Read more about the program and how its pass rates on math and science AP exams stack up against national averages in Schoof's full report on McClatchy.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What the Wind Can Do as an Energy Source

The Gooru Corner featured wind as an energy source earlier in this month and as fall approaches and there's more breezes passing through, we couldn't think of a better time to highlight all the things wind can do.

The wind has many practical uses: flying a kite, going sailing, paragliding or just cooling off on a warm day. But did you know that wind can be harnessed as a renewable energy source as well? Check out this multimedia collection brought to you by Gooru Corner to learn about the benefits and consequences of wind power.

What would you do with wind power?  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Back to School: Be STEM Ready

You want to be STEM ready this year but getting together all of the resources - like, say a brand new multi-million dollar facility, STEM-prepared training for your staff and a plethora of STEM materials to name a few - can be tricky to say the least. But there's good news: your school is not alone. Go ahead and categorize yourself with all of the other schools doing everything they can to just get this STEM thing off the ground.

Nevertheless, Anne Jolly shows you how you can ramp up for some great STEM learning by following advice gathered from educators who have been teaching STEM classes successfully for several years. Let's get started!

As Jolly explains, prepare yourself for a noisy classroom where multiple right answers abound and failure is regarded as a positive step toward discovery and successful solution. You'll need to get ready for your kiddos to work closely together, using hands-on methods to solve real-world problems. This also means being willing to take a step back and give your students enough room to kick off their journey toward becoming creative, innovative, critical thinkers. 

Take a look at this checklist of five questions that your school needs to consider to get ready for their STEM adventure.
  1. Does everyone know why the school is implementing STEM and what STEM is designed to accomplish?
  2. What type of STEM program will your school implement initially and what do you want this program to become?
  3. How will you prepare and support teachers? What do teachers know/need to know, and how will they learn it?
  4. What will your school do about STEM curriculum?
  5. What resources are available?
Jolly cites answers to all five questions in her article on KQED's blog, Mind Shift. She even offers up multiple reasons or answers per question to make it easy for you to find one that applies to your school's situation. Check them out here.

In short: your school can be STEM-ready as long as you have a starting point and a long term goal. Jolly reminds us that the STEM initiative will keep growing with some visionary leadership. That being said, a knowledgeable and supportive school principal is the most important driver behind a STEM initiative. 

Another great Jolly suggestion: get a group of extra supportive parents to form a STEM booster club. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Imagine Your STEM Future

Just last week, the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) announced Imagine Your STEM Future, a national activity series designed to engage high school girls in and inspire them toward careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Can I get a whoo-yeah!

As stated by PR Newswire, the activity series consists of four flexible units the pique girls' interest in STEM career and helps them begin to match their interests and skills with jobs in high-demand sectors. The new program will be open for schools or other hosting sites to have in place in just a couple of weeks as girls return to school.

The four core units of Imagine Your STEM Future can be delivered over four to eight activity-filled sessions and even has additional extensions and online activities. In the core program, girls:
  • team up to do STEM experiments,
  • learn about and meet female scientists who can serve as role models,
  • explore STEM careers and how scientists make the world a better place, 
  • conduct STEM activities alongside their peers,
  • learn to serve as leaders to help out other girls get involved in STEM.
Another perk of this program is that girls can do all of the STEM experiments in the core program units with objects from their everyday life and the guidance of books. This makes the program easily accessible to all high school girls!

Imagine Your STEM Future has already been piloted with more than 6,000 undeserved teenage girls across the U.S., with positive results. It should be interesting to see how the program does on a larger scale this fall, but it looks like it'll have no trouble continuing to positively affect girls' perspective on STEM.

For more information and to check out statements from GSUSA chief executive officer, Maria Chavez, read the entire PR Newswire report.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Summer Science Experiment: Making Magic with Milk

The summer is winding down, but there's still time to squeeze in just a few more experiments before your kids head back to school. As usual, this experiment involves a small list of household products, but the end result reflects exploration and discovery. In this popular Dr. Mad Science experiment, you and your young scientists will observe how milk reacts with food coloring and soap.

Here's what you'll need:
  • Milk (it is recommended that you use 2%)
  • A bowl
  • Food coloring
  • Q-tips
  • Dish Soap (it is recommended that you use Dawn)
Now let's get started:
  1. Start by filling the bowl with milk and waiting for all the bubbles to go away.
  2. Put a large amount of food coloring in the center of the milk.
  3. Take Q-tips and dip them into the dish soap. Then put them in the middle of the bowl for 15 seconds.
  4. Watch as the food coloring expands on the surface of the milk.
So what about the science? Well here it is: milk contains protein and really small amounts of fat in it. Both proteins and fat are sensitive to chemical changes. The chemicals in the dish soap weaken the chemical bonds that hold the protein together in the milk solution and the food coloring allows us to visually see the changes in the protein molecules. Likewise, the soap molecules cause the fat in the milk to mix and swirl until the fat has been distributed across the entire amount of the milk.

Watch Dr. Mad Science do it!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Create a Communications Satellite!

Have you ever wanted to make your own satellite? Create something that's so intricate, high-tech and helpful? Well, The Gooru Corner is giving you that chance. With their interactive resource, you can try your hand at designing a communications satellite. You'll need to figure out how to launch it, power it and make it return signals to Earth. After you make all your choices, see how well your satellite works.

Start creating with Interactive Resource!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

It's Shark Week: Sharks and Science!

It's that time of year again: shark week has dawned on the Discovery Channel and millions are tuning in every night to watch real-life Jaws survival stories and the tale of Megalodon. But what if everything they showed on Discovery Channel wasn't true? Ed Yong of National Geographic certainly doesn't believe that the prehistoric Megalodon that enchanted so many early in the week is true.

He said in an article published on National Geographic's website earlier today, "...the show was filled with lies, fabrications and actors playing scientists."

But if Megalodon isn't real, what is?! Here are some great shark facts that Yong brought to the table.
  • Thresher Sharks Hunt with Huge Weapon-like Tails: Though most sharks are most dangerous at their front end, thresher sharks are the exception. These guys have managed to weaponise their tails, making them deadly from the front or the back. Even worse, the top halves of their scythe-like tail fins are so enormous they can be as long as the rest of the shark!
  • Shark Dads Lose Babies to Unborn Cannibal Siblings: Inside its mothers' womb, an unborn tiger shark is busy devouring its brothers and sisters. It's just 10 centimeters long, but it already has well-developed eyes and a set of sharp teeth, which it turns against its smaller siblings. By the time the pregnant female gives birth, she only has two babies left - one in each of its two wombs. I guess the life of a tiger shark is a shark-eat-shark world - literally.
  • Prehistoric Great White Shark Had Strongest Bite in History: While the toothy jaws of the great white might be the most famous in the animal kingdom thanks to Hollywood, the great white's mouth has received very little experimental attention. Just recently, Stephen Wroe from the University of New South Wales has put the great white's skull through a digital crash-test, to work out just how powerful its bite was. A medium-sized great white, 2.5m in length and 240kg, could bite with a force of 0.3 tonnes. But the largest individuals can exert a massive 1.8 tonnes with their jaws, giving them one of the most powerful bites among any living animal. Cue the scary Jaws music...!
To read even more "actual facts" from Yong, check out his full article.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Summer Science Experiment: Backyard Bottle Rocket

Have you ever wondered what launches a rocket? Would you ever guess that it was something as simple as built up pressure? Well try it our for yourself and make a bottle rocket in your backyard this weekend!

Here's what you'll need:
  • An empty plastic bottle
  • Cardboard made into a cone and 4 fins
  • A cork
  • A pump with a needle adapter
  • Water
Now let's get started:
  1. Push the needle adapter of the pump through the cork and make sure it goes all the way through. To do this you may have to trim the cork down a little bit.
  2. Take your cardboard cone and fins and apply them to the bottle. (The cone at the top and the four fins at the bottom, so that the bottle resembles a rocket.)
  3. Fill the bottle with water until it's about a quarter full and then push the cork in tightly.
  4. Attach the pump to the needle adapter. If your bottle rocket won't stand up on it's own with the fins you made, rest it on a table, but if you make strong fins, you should fine and your bottle should stand up on its own.
  5. Pump air into the bottle and prepare for lift off! Make sure that everyone is standing away from the bottle as it will go up in the air with force after just a few seconds.

So what about the science? Check out Science Spark's explanation.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

STEM Teacher Prep Earns Texas A&M State Honor

Good news for STEM in the Lone Star State: Texas A&M University's STEM Teacher Preparation Academy has been recognized as an Exemplary Faculty Practice under the Quest for Quality: Teacher in Texas initiative. The statewide effort highlights exceptional quality in university-based teacher preparation across Texas.

As stated on Texas A&M's website: Quest for Quality is a collaboration between the Center for Research, Evaluation and Advancement of Teacher Education (CREATE) and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) and is funded through a grant from the College for All Texans Foundation. 

The award, based on a submission prepared by STEM Academy representatives earlier this spring, recognizes evidence of faculty excellence in the following areas: developing knowledge in the discipline; modeling pedagogy; using technology; addressing diversity and equity; creating experiential learning; investigating, analyzing and solving problems; and assessing learning. Texas A&M reports that all nominations were independently reviewed and selected by state and national reviewers, along with CREATE staff.

Specifically recognized from Texas A&M were STEM Academy staff members Timothy P. Scott, Jennifer Whitfield, Dawn Parker and Carolyn Schroeder. The staff members were cited for their efforts to impact and improve the state of STEM education by helping to better prepare the next generation of science and math teachers. This comes as good news at a time when STEM teachers that are capable of preparing today's youth seem so scarce.

To learn more, read the full article and to view commentary from teachers who were recognized, click here.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Summer Science Experiment: Make it Rain!

You may have more rain than you'd like this summer, but for those sweating out the summer and doing their best to make it through another drought, the four letter word never sounded so good.  Either way, why not make some rain of your own?! Help your kids understand the weather and what really causes it. This might even help curb some weather related fears your little ones are hanging on to. 

Grab these items to get started:
  • Glass Jar
  • Hot, hot water
  • Plate
  • Ice Cubes
Once you have you're supplies, get started! (And it's totally okay to call yourself the rain man/woman if you'd like.)
  1. Heat your water until it is just about boiling and pour it into your glass jar.
  2. As quickly as you can, cover the glass jar with your plate and then place the ice cubes on top. You might also want to keep a towel handy for any unexpected spills that might occur.
  3. Sit back and watch what happens as it begins to rain inside your jar! 
So what's really happening, here? The warm, moist air from the water rises and mixes with the cool air created by the ice cubes causing condensation first, and then rain. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tools for STEM Schools

If you're looking for tools to guide your thinking and actions for STEM implementation in your school then you've come to the right place. Dorothy Earle and SusieTeague, Education Specialists for S2TEM Centers SC recently wrote a blog post for STEMblog that detailed three ready-to-use, free resources that will get your STEM journey started on the right foot.

  1. The Theory of Action (TOA) for STEM Success is a foundational tool. Within this framework, users will find a repository of information, reflection questions and self assessments to guide them in meeting their STEM education goals with just one click. The TOA highlights 10 characteristics of successful STEM schooling organized under two broad categories:
·         STEM Mindedness describes the STEM school’s culture, vision and values. The characteristics are highlighted under the headings of STEM for All, Innovation, Collaboration, Continuous, Learning and Data.
·         Total InstructionalFocus describes the full community’s shared responsibility for instruction that prepares each student for success in STEM. The characteristics are highlighted under the headings of Engaged Community, Curriculum, Assessment, Professional Learning and Instructional Support.

  1. Innovation Configuration (IC) Maps are a set of tools that complement the TOA and are available for download. IC Maps highlight characteristics of high functioning STEM schools and provide detailed support in guiding schools along the continuum from getting started to sustaining an exemplary STEM program.
  1. The STEM Self-Assessment is a short, online tool that provides immediate feedback to help schools identify a starting point for exploring the TOA and IC Maps.
For more information on these resources, or to learn more about S2TEM Centers SC’s programs and services, visit theoriginal blog post or go to the organizations website at From there you can join their mailing list, visit their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter.

Monday, July 22, 2013

UW-Madison Using Ant Gardens to Advance Biofuel Studies

Ants: no matter how mindless and insignificant the tiny critters may seem, they're doing big things and advancing science at the same time! What am getting at? Biotechnology Calender, Inc. reported that bioresearchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison are taking note of ants maintaining gardens of fungi as we speak and are translating how their inquisitive habits may aid humans in their search for sustainable energy sources.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Geoff Gallice.
For example, leaf-cutter ants share a cyclical symbiotic relationship with the fungus L. gongylophorous that starts when the ants bring leaves to the function. In other words, the fungus breaks down the leaves into sugars it can digest, and then it produces fruiting bodies full of nutrients that are valuable to the ants. This brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Because of their relationship, both organisms get access to a source of food they would be unable to attain on their own.

What interests researchers most about this relationship though, isn't the relationship itself, but rather how the fungus L. gongylophorous handles the leaves that are brought to it. The breakdown process the fungus goes through is very similar to the goals of researchers like Garret Suen, who investigates ways to break down cellulosic commodities like corn stalks and grasses and turn them into biofuel. 

To read a statement from Suen on how he plans to learn how humans can mimic the fungus on a much larger scale and to learn more, check out the full Biotechnology Calender, Inc. article here.

This read more about the funding for the University of Wisconsin, Madison and its studies, click here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Summer Science Experiment: Ocean in a Jar!

Heat waves are affecting everyone this summer and nothing sounds better than hitting the beach to relax and cool off. If you can't go to the beach, make this ocean in a jar with your kids this weekend - complete with lessons about density and waves. The catch? They'll be having so much fun they won't even realize they're learning at the same time.

The lesson: water is denser than oil and the two liquids never mix. So, when the water in your ocen jar moves, it pushes the oil around making shapes like waves.

Here's what you'll need:
  • Clear jar or bottle with lid
  • Water
  • Blue food coloring
  • Glitter
  • Baby Oil
  • Plastic floating toys
Now get started on bring the ocean to you:
  1. Fill the jar or bottle halfway with water.
  2. Add drops of the blue food coloring until your like the color you see. Shake in a little glitter to add a little pizazz to your ocean water.
  3. Pour baby oil into the jar until it's three-quarters full.
  4. Place a floating toy or multiple floating toys on top of the oil, and then screw the lid on until it's pretty snug and tight.
  5. Shake the jar gently to make some waves and set your ocean in motion! Think about this: when you shake the jar side to side are the waves produced different than those you see when you shake the jar in an up-and-down motion? 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies: Science-fied!

The following recipe for chocolate chip cookies was adapted from a recipe that appeared in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN, June 19, 1995, p. 100). It was attributed to Jeannene Ackerman of Wico Corp. The recipe was published in Fisher Science Education's March/April 2013 issue of Headline Discoveries.

Ever wonder what a chocolate chip cookie looks like from a chemist's perspective? 

The ingredient list will probably look a lot like this:
  • 532.35mL (283 grams) finely milled wheat grains
  • 4.9mL NaHCO3
  • 4.9mL refined halite
  • 226.8 grams (2 rectangular prisms) partially hydrogenated tallow triglyceride
  • 177.45mL crystalline sucrose (C12H22O11)
  • 177.45mL sucrose-molasses mixture
  • 4.9mL vanillin-ethanol solution
  • Two calcium carbonate-encapsulated avian albumen-coated protein
  • 473.2mL theobroma cacao
And here's how a chemist would go about making these ooey-gooey favorites:
  1. Add the finely milled wheat grains, NaHCO3 and refined halite to a 2L jacketed round reactor vessel (reactor #1) equipped with a sir mechanism.
  2. In a second 2L reactor vessel fitted with a radial flow impeller operating at 100 rpm, app the triglyceride, sucrose, score-molasses mixture and vanillin-ethanol solution until the mixture is homogenous.
  3. Add the encapsulated albumen-coated protein followed by three equal portions of the homogenous mixture in reactor #1. Add the theobroma cacao slowly with constant agitation. Care must be taken at this point in the reaction to control any temperature rise that may be the result of an exothermic reaction.
  4. Divide the resulting slurry into spheres each approximately 65mL in volume. Place individual spheres on a 316 SS sheet (300 x 600mm). Heat in a 450°K oven for a period of time that is in agreement with Frank & Johnston’s first order rate expression (see JACOS, 21, 55), or until golden brown.
  5. Once the reaction is complete, place the sheet on a 300°K heat-transfer surface allowing the product to come to thermal equilibrium.
Want to take this recipe (or yummy experiment, whatever you'd like to call it) to the next level? Think about these discussion points: 
  • If you wanted to add peanuts or dark chocolate to your cookies, what would you add to the list of ingredients?
  • Write your own chemist's recipe for a baked treat using the format above.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Summer Science Experiment: Homemade Flubber!

Yes, you read that correctly: I said flubber! Your children will be thrilled to have a bag of their very own flubber to show off the rest of the neighborhood kids and will enjoy squeezing it and playing with it even more! 

Just grab a few things from around the house and you'll be ready to get started. When you're all finished, you and your kiddos will have some awesome green flubber to play with (minus all the super bounce power that it possesses in the movie!) 

Here's what you'll need:
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 1 cup liquid Elmer's glue
  • Liquid food coloring (Blue and yellow to make a nice green color or any other color that you'd like!)
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoon borax (you can find this in a box in the laundry aisle)
  • 2 bowls
  1. In bowl one, mix together the cold water, glue and food coloring. Once mixed, set aside.
  2. In bowl two, mix together the hot water and borax until the borax is completely dissolved.
  3. Slowly add the glue mixture to the borax mixture. Mix well and pour off any excess water.
After that all you have left to do is enjoy! (And clean up, of course.)

Monday, July 8, 2013

STEM Schools the Topic of New Town Hall Series!

STEMconnector and Next Steps Institute are joining forces to host three Virtual Town Halls this summer on the topic of STEM schools. The online webinars will serve as pre-conference workshops in advance of the Next Steps for STEM Schools Conference in Charleston, SC on Sept. 30-Oct. 2. 

Revolving around STEM schools, each Town Hall will focus on engaging key stakeholders in supporting STEM schools and identifying resources and best practices. The three-webinar series will kick off tomorrow, July 9, at 5 p.m. ET with, "Leveraging Federal and State Resources to Support STEM Schools." 

The following speakers will offer their unique institutional perspectives on the topic:
You can join in on the Town Hall by registering here. You can also keep up with the action by joining in on the Twitter Chat using #NS4STEM.

The second Town Hall of the series, "Engaging Industry - Promising Models of Corporate Engagement in STEM Schools," will be held on July 30. Speakers at this webinar will discuss promising practices of industry engagement in STEM school support. "Field Report: STEM Schools in Action," will wrap up the Town Hall series on August 20 and offer perspective from STEM school supporters, administrators and teachers.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Make a Patriotic Density Column in Honor of the Fourth of July!

Trying to figure out what you're going to do in between the morning parade and the evening fireworks tomorrow? Right before you head out to grill some burgers or join some friends at the park, intrigue your children (and yourself) with a patriotic science lesson!

This July 4th chemistry lesson celebrates America and ends up being a red, white and blue display of density layers. (Note: Kerosene lamp oil is toxic and flammable. Because this experiment includes using kerosene lamp oil, adult supervision is required.)

Here's what you'll need:
  • Milk
  • Red Kerosene Lamp Oil (Sold at your local home improvement store)
  • Light Corn Syrup
  • Blue Food Coloring
  • Clear column or cup
Here's how you'll do it:
  1. Mix blue food coloring into the corn syrup until the desired color is attained.
  2. Slowly pour the same amount of the colored corn syrup, kerosene lamp oil and milk (in any order you wish) into a clear column or cup. Here's a hint: You get minimal mixing by slowly pouring each liquid over the back of a disposable plastic spoon.
  3. Now observe and enjoy! The most dense liquid is at the bottom of the column or cup and the least dense liquid is at the top. Were you predictions about the order of the colors correct?!
To make the density column more exciting, light the top layer (the lamp oil) on fire!

*Fuel kerosene is also sometimes available in a blue color, so if this is what you have, use it and just make the light corn syrup red with food coloring.

Check out this video for a demonstration of a patriotic density column. 
This woman makes her's in a shot glass!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Summer Science Experiment: Mystery Markers!

Summer heat is officially taking over. Since your youngsters can't spend all day outside, bring them inside and embrace their inquisitive side with another summer time experiment that you can do right inside your kitchen. Even better, you'll enjoy this experiment as much as your kids will.

Here's what you'll need:
  • Bowl of water
  • Plain white paper towels, cut into strips
  • 3 or more different markers, including black (non-primary colors work best)
When you have all your materials together, get started!
  1. Draw a wavy line an inch from the bottom of each towel strip, using different color markers on each one. Make sure you note which color is on which strip.
  2. Dip each strip in to the water so that the bottom edge of the paper towel is submerged, but not the line of marker ink. Hold the strip in place as the water creeps up the paper towel.
  3. The marker ink will spread, revealing the different types of dye that make up each color. The young minds around you will this it's magic!
The lesson here is that most colors are actually made up of several different colors or dyes. Science-ly speaking:  as the paper towel draws the water out of the bowl, the water molecules bond with the different ink molecules and spread them. The process of separating these dyes is known as chromatography. 

To make it really interesting, have your young scientist cover up their eyes while you draw a line on a fresh paper towel strip. Dip it in the water and, once the ink has spread, have them open their eyes and try to guess which marker you used!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Indiana Making STEM Count

Earlier this month, Bob Rivers told Louisa Murzyn of that if there was a silver lining to business innovation in Indiana during rough economic times it would stepping up STEM. "Our businesses have sounded an alarm because they have to hire people from our of state," the Director of the Center for Science and Technology Education at Purdue University Calumet relayed to Murzyn.

Creating a pipeline of strong STEM students is easier said than done, though. The U.S. Department of Labor cites that only five percent of U.S. workers are employed in STEM fields despite the fact that they are responsible for more than 50 percent of sustained economic expansion. To go even deeper, STEM careers have garnered 26 percent more earnings than their non-STEM counterparts.

STEM job growth was three times that of non-STEM jobs in the past decade and is the runner up to health care as the fastest growing occupational category, but the growth still isn't enough. River communicated that Indiana really needs to step up their game and raise the bar all around. Key STEM fields in Indiana include advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, engineering and information technology.

Not enough STEM professionals isn't a problem in Indiana alone. In fact, it doesn't come as a huge surprise to many that the problem extends itself nationwide. Commentary on the STEM problem usually leads to discussions of testing and holding students, educators and institutions alike accountable for teaching science and getting students prepared to tackle higher level science courses. Rivers explained to Murzyn that an imperative part of the process is assessing student ability in science over the long haul and starting these assessments at the upper elementary level.

Also part of the discussion is exciting students about STEM fields. Since STEM degrees and certificates are not keeping pace with the growth of STEM jobs, many think that students are simply lacking excitement about the subject matter. In Indiana, Rivers thinks that lighting the fire in elementary school is essential because that's "where the pipeline starts." 

Rivers also told Murzyn that the composition of the STEM pipeline needs to include more women and underrepresented minorities. This argument has faced opposition recently, but the statistics still show that men dominate the STEM playing field. Nonetheless, Indiana is looking to solve these problems a step at a time with small improvement after small improvement.

Check out Murzyn's full article on building a STEM pipeline in Indiana and view more of Rivers' commentary on the issue.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Myth vs. Fact: Where STEM Really Stands

Earlier this week, a panel of educators and STEM advocates at the 2013 U.S. News STEM Solutions conference in Austin, Texas debunked what they deem to be myths about STEM. Though fixing the state of STEM in America is a hot topic, there are more misconceptions and misunderstandings about what's really happening than many realize.

Here's a look into the myths the panel discussed.

There are massive shortcomings across all STEM fields.
Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, said on Tuesday, "Not all STEM fields are created equal. If I look at biology and chemistry classes, they are probably 60 percent female, and there are a lot of students of color in those classes." 

This addresses the notion that STEM fields lack diversity and aren't particularly female-friendly.

Boosting STEM education is a matter of finding as many teachers as possible.
Before we produce an overload of qualified STEM educators, many in Tuesday's panel think we need to be aware of where the shortages fall. The problem now: colleges are producing gobs of elementary school teachers and not enough science teachers.

Testing can be a great thing.
How much should the education system really rely on testing? According to educators and STEM advocates, "teaching the test" can be incredibly counterproductive to helping students learn and grow educationally.

STEM has to seem "cool" for kids to be good at it.
The panel stressed that putting young students through the "uncool" basics of match and science may be mundane and frustrating at times, but these steps are crucial. A young student must understand these concepts and understand them before he or she can move of to the more exciting elements of science.

Read the full U.S. News & World News Report by Danielle Kurtzleben here. It's complete with quotes from the panel and more discussion topics.