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.