Program 40: Density Tower and Lava Lamps, oh my!

I’m always looking for something new to do with my G3 scientists, and I’ve been itching to try out some sort of density-themed program for a while now. I finally decided to just go for it, and I’m so glad I did. My crew LOVED both the density tower demonstration as well as the take-home lava lamps. We also tried a third experiment called “Light Ice, Heavy Water” – but more on that one below.

First, what exactly is “density”? As described by Andrew Zimmerman Jones on about.com’s education portal:

A material’s density is defined as its mass per unit volume. It is, essentially, a measuremement of how tightly matter is crammed together. 

image_38935And who discovered the principle of density? Our beloved Greek scientist, Archimedes, who is famous for the story of how he discovered the principles of both density and buoyancy…in his bathtub, then running through the streets naked screaming “Eureka!” at the top of his lungs :)

THE DENSITY TOWER EXPERIMENT

The inspiration for this demonstration came from our dear friend Steve Spangler. The density tower does require some pricier grocery items if you really want to impress the room with as many layers as possible, but all of the items are pretty common. So if you don’t have the budget for the supplies, I suspect you can convince some friends, family, and/or co-workers to donate some supplies (like I did!).

Materials:

  • Tall, narrow, clear container (500 mL or 1000 mL graduated cylinders are perfect); I actually ordered this set of cylinders from the Steve Spangler store – an investment I know I’ll make use of in the future, and overall not that big of an expense
  • Turkey baster (pretty crucial in creating your density tower)
  • 100 mL (1.5-3.5 oz) lamp oil (this was the trickiest item to find – I ended up purchasing red lamp oil on Amazon.com)
  • 100 mL rubbing alcohol (I used 70%)
  • 100 mL vegetable oil
  • 100 mL tap water
  • 100 mL dish soap (I used Dawn dish soap because I had some left over from previous experiments)
  • 100 mL whole milk
  • 100 mL 100% pure maple syrup
  • 100 mL corn syrup (I used light corn syrup, and it worked just fine)
  • 100 mL honey
  • Ping pong ball (I borrowed one from a co-worker)
  • Soda bottle cap
  • Plastic beads (I grabbed a handful from our craft supplies at the library)
  • Grape tomato (I actually used a cherry tomato, which could explain why it landed at a different level than the experiment noted, but nothing wrong with that!)
  • Board game die
  • Popcorn kernels (Again, I put a call out to my co-workers and someone nicely brought me in a small handful)
  • Metal nut or bolt

37048a82fc636d1752f388c25ce4a94d62122c00First, I had considered actually creating the tower in the presence of the scientists, but after watching this density tower video from Steve Spangler on youtube and seeing just how patient and careful you need to be while creating it, I decided to go another route. I actually created my full density tower the night before my program – it took about 1-1.5 hours because I really took my time with it. I used the largest of the cylinders that came with my Spangler cylinder set, and I added 100 mL of each substance. I pretty much followed Steve Spangler’s advice in the video I noted above. You can add the first couple of items just by SLOWLY pouring a small stream of the liquid into the cylinder. But then you need to start using the turkey baster to slowly add additional liquids. As Steve notes in his video, keep in mind that several of the liquids are so close in density that it is VERY easy for the liquids to actually mix. If you rush and your items mix, you can let them set for 24 hours or so, but there’s no guarantee that they will cleanly separate (at least not as much as they would have with a more careful hand used in creating the original tower).

Photo Mar 25It’s been a while since I did a classroom-style G3 program, and it worked out perfectly with the density tower demonstration. I had scientists at 5 tables, with my table up front. I disguised the density tower by putting it under a wast basket on the table, and lined up all of the items I used to create the tower along the front of my table (in no particular order). After briefly defining density, I put simple worksheets out and asked the groups at each table to see if they could guess which of the items on my table were the most and least dense. In fact, I asked them to rate the items from 1-9, with 1 being the most dense and 9 the least dense. I encouraged them to come to the front of the room and shake the bottles/containers so they could get a sense of the different viscosities (thicknesses), etc. The scientists spent a good 20 min. running back and forth, comparing notes on the various liquids. There was a lot of great deductive reasoning going into the group thought processes. For example, one scientist would say, “The Corn Syrup and the Honey both move really slow and seem much thicker than the other liquids, so they must be more dense than the others.” Or another scientist would say, “Alcohol seems to evaporate quickly when I put it on a cut, so it might be less dense than some of the other liquids.”

I then had a lot of fun revealing the true order of the liquids with the scientists, starting with the honey as the most dense, and ending with the lamp oil as the least dense. But I stressed that a lot of the liquids are actually extremely close in terms of density. For example, compare the density of some of the items used in our density column:

  • Rubbing Alcohol .79
  • Lamp Oil .80
  • Vegetable Oil .93
  • Water 1.00
  • Milk 1.03
  • Dawn Dish Soap 1.06
  • Light Corn Syrup 1.33
  • Maple Syrup 1.37
  • Honey 1.42

You can see from the above list that there is a greater danger of water mixing with milk than of water mixing with honey, or with vegetable oil mixing with maple syrup.

Photo Mar 25-3Photo Mar 25-4Once our full list had been revealed, I unveiled my own density tower and encouraged the scientists to come to the front of the room for the next level of experimentation: adding objects to the tower to test their density compared to our liquids. This was probably the most fun I had all day. The G3 scientists had a blast trying to predict where our different objects would land in the density column, from the bolt to the ping pong ball and everything in-between. As you can see from the videos below, the scientists were fully engaged and invested in discovering the results of our experiment. Not all of our objects landed at the same levels as noted in Steve Spangler’s own experiment, but I simply explained to the group that our objects may be of different sizes and densities than the ones that he used.

THE LAVA LAMP EXPERIMENT

Materials:

  • Bottles for each scientist (I tried using recycled water bottles, but visually the lava lamps were so much better in a glass bottle. I lucked into a sale at Michael’s for some glass milk bottles with some screw caps)
  • Water or Vinegar (I just used tap water to fill each bottle to the half-way point; I have read that the reaction is more dramatic with Vinegar than water, but I left that for each scientist to test at home)
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Liquid food coloring
  • Alka-Seltzer tablets, at least one per scientist
  • Paper towels for spills and oily hands 

There are a lot of different versions of this experiment online, so I just used the combination of what worked best for my materials. A lot of instructions have you add the oil first, but I wanted the scientists to mix the water color first. So, I passed out the glass milk bottles to each scientist, pre-filled to about the half-way point with water (no need to be super exact). I then had them choose the color of their choice and use the food coloring to color the water. They then added enough vegetable oil to top off the bottle (with a small air pocket at the top of the bottle). We gave the bottles a chance to settle into their two layers – with the colored water on the bottom and the oil on top. I then gave everyone an Alka-Seltzer tablet. We dropped them into the bottles, quickly resealing with the cap. The Alka-Seltzer reacts with the water, forcing colored bubbles of the water up through the oil…so you get about the same affect as a real lava lamp! Once the Alka-Seltzer fully dissolves in the water, you can add another one and start the process all over again. I also find the lava lamp bottle very soothing and fun to play with in its quiet state (without the bubbling) :) My scientists were very excited to take this one home with them. We did have some accidents with the vegetable oil being poured to over-flowing, so be sure to have some paper towels on hand to help with any mess. And we actually had a few of the caps pop off the top of bottles during the bubbling phase – no doubt due to overfilling – but the reaction in the bottle was not so eruptive that we had a messy explosion (we just put the caps back on).

LIGHT ICE, HEAVY WATER EXPERIMENT – FAILURE

284a393cb1d472c900e9651a431b3c3b9c772fdbAll science experimentation has some failure, and this experiment was my failure of the day.

I had really been looking forward to trying this one out for a while, and it finally seemed like I had the right program for it. I never do an experiment with the G3 crew that I haven’t tried myself first, so of course I tested this one out. On my own, the experiment was actually a great success. However, the day of the program, I think I made a critical mistake. You first add vegetable to your cup, and then slowly squeeze some baby oil into the cup to top it off. I had pre-poured some baby oil into cups for my scientists, so on the step where we add the baby oil to the vegetable oil, I think we ended up mixing the two liquids too quickly instead of carefully keeping them in two layers. Given enough time (like 24 hours), our layers would likely have separated enough for the experiment to work. However, we clearly just did not have enough time to complete it during our program hour in the manner we did it :(

This is a really fun experiment when talking about density because you get to prove that water in its liquid form is actually MORE dense than water in its solid ice form. Kind of blows your mind when you think about it. I have a feeling I’ll try this one again some day…

Categories: density | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Program 39: The return of candy experiments!

I knew I had to plan something special for the first G3 program of 2015…and during a school vacation week no less! What better than a program that brings our scientists close to something they know and love so well:  CANDY.

My scientists loved this program when we did it back in September of 2013. At that time, I designed the program to include some videos about how some popular candies are made (e.g., M&Ms, marshmallows, cotton candy). If you’re interested in seeing those videos, they are linked to the post from my previous program.

Candy Experiments 2 by Loralee Leavitt

Candy Experiments 2 by Loralee Leavitt

Candy Experiments by Loralee Leavitt

Candy Experiments by Loralee Leavitt

Part of my inspiration for doing this program was that Loralee Leavitt just released a followup book to her original Candy Experiments book. The majority of my experiments still came from the first book, but I was able to put some fun twists on things thanks to suggestions from her newest book. Her second book would be a great take-home for any budding scientist looking for some fun science fair project ideas (or for some fun science exploration at home) since many of the projects span a longer time frame that I am able to accommodate during my one-hour program time. As a reminder to my home readers, there is also a fun companion web site with some online experiment instructions. And as always, one of my favorite science fellas – Steve Spangler – provided some fun experiment suggestions as well…

THE EXPERIMENTS

We had an ambitious list of experiments that I wanted to do for the day, so I didn’t even bother creating a presentation with youtube videos and the like (which I usually do) Instead, we jumped right into the experiments themselves. WARNING:  SOME PEOPLE HAVE ALLERGIES TO NUTS, AND MANY CANDIES CAN BE LITERALLY LIFE-THREATENING BECAUSE THEY EITHER CONTAIN NUTS OR POSSIBLY COME IN CONTACT WITH NUTS DURING PRODUCTION IN FACTORIES. BE SURE TO READ CANDY PACKAGES CAREFULLY – AND WHEN IN DOUBT, CALL THE MANUFACTURER! One of the most important rules for scientists is “be safe!” Thus, all of our G3 scientists wore latex-free and powder-free nylon gloves to protect their hands, lab coats to protect their bodies, and special instructions to be careful about where there candy was at all times. None of my scientists that day noted allergies to nuts and/or other foods, but I wanted them to be aware of the need for caution when working with food regardless.

The experiments we focused on for the day were:

  1. “Color Mixing” using gobstoppers and starlight mints
  2. “Floating Letters” using M&Ms and Skittles  (there are also great details about this experiment on Steve Spangler’s web site)
  3. “Candy Chromatography” using black jelly beans (via the Steve Spangler web site)
  4. “Wormy Cotton Candy”
  5. “Defying Gravity with Slime” using cotton candy
  6. “The Cotton Candy Sponge”
  7. “Snap, Crackle, Pop Rocks” using Pop Rocks
  8. DEMONSTRATION:  “Popcorn Pop Rocks”
  9. “Squash the Unsinkable” using 3 Musketeers mini bars
  10. “Unsticky It” using large marshmallows

 

COLOR MIXING

Materials:

  • Gobstoppers candies, several colors per scientist (I ordered some Wonka gobstoppers from Amazon.com)
  • Starlight mint candies, 1 per scientist (I used both the green striped and the red striped candies)
  • Plates (must be able to hold liquid)
  • Some water (I distribute recycled bottles filled with water amongst my tables for the kids to use throughout the program)

NOTE: Starlight Mints are NOT safe for kids with nut allergies – they are produced in a factory where they can come into contact with nuts!

We definitely did not get enough time with this cool experiment back in 2013, so I put it top of my list for this month. This “color mixing” experiment produces a really cool effect. Gobstopper candies are created with many different colored layers. As you suck on the candy, each layer dissolves to reveal a different colored layer underneath. Manufacturers need to make the sugar candy coatings of various colors in a unique way to ensure that the colors don’t mix during production and stay separate.

We tested this by placing gobstoppers of different colors into a small paper plate with a layer of water in it. You want the gobstoppers close but not touching – about 1-2 inches apart. The color coatings quickly dissolve, but it’s like there’s an invisible wall between the colors. The red doesn’t mix with the purple, the green doesn’t mix with the yellow, etc.  At least for a time, all of the colors stay completely separated!

Using the same plate, my scientists then put one each of the green and red striped starlight mints into the same plate/water. When the Starlight mint is placed in the water, the candy actually dissolves in stripes! The red and white stripes (or green and white stripes) stay separated for a time due to the variance in the sugar content in the surrounding water as it dissolves.

FLOATING LETTERS

Materials:

  • Snack sized packs of M&Ms and Skittles (or you can just make sure that you portion the candy in a way that each scientists gets several of each)
  • Small, clear cups (I used the Diamond mini-cups that I found at Wal-mart)
  • Some water

NOTE: M&Ms are NOT safe for kids with nut allergies, but Skittles ARE.

Our scientists dropped some Skittles and M&Ms in a small cup filled with room temperature water, letter-side up. Over the course of 5-10 minutes, as the colored candy coatings started to dissolve in the water, the letters on the candies (either “s” or “m”) slowly separated from the candies and floated to the surface of the water! The candy makers actually use an ink that is NOT soluble in water to write the letters on the candy; in other words, the letters don’t dissolve in the water – they stay intact!

CANDY CHROMATOGRAPHY

Materials:

  • Black jelly beans (1 for each scientist)
  • Filter paper (1 for each scientist) – I used 11 cm. filter paper bought via Amazon.com that I still had in stock from when the G3 crew experimented with color, but you can also use coffee filters for this
  • Pipettes (I LOVE pipettes! You can use them for so many things; I buy them in bulk from Amazon)
  • Water

Chromatography is a term used to describe the separation of mixtures, usually with the help of a fluid. And that’s just what we wanted to do. The purpose of this experiment was to discover what different colors are used to make the black coating for black jelly beans. Each scientist placed their black jelly bean on the filter paper, and then added water using their pipettes (eyedroppers). Then you just have to sit back and wait for 10-15 min. or so as the water starts to dissolve and separate the black candy coating. You can really see the colors on the filter paper best when the paper actually dries, so I sent all of my scientists home with their papers. But even before it dried, our scientists were seeing that blue, green, pink and purple were all colors that helped to make our jelly beans black. As noted on Steve Spangler’s site:

Although the black jellybean appears to be black, the dyes that comprise the color are actually many. You can see the different dyes as they move up the filter paper. These dyes separate from each other because some dyes are more attracted to the paper while others are more soluble in water. These differences result in varying distances from the jellybean.

WORMY COTTON CANDY + DEFYING GRAVITY WITH SLIME + THE COTTON CANDY SPONGE

Materials:

  • Charms Fluffy Stuff cotton candy packs, 1 per scientist (this is hard to find in stores, though I have seen some at the Dollar Store near me; this time around I just ordered from Amazon)
  • Plates (I used plastic plates since I had them in stock – you will be adding water to the plate so make sure it is sturdy/coated)
  • Small plastic cups with water in them
  • Small plastic cups with vegetable oil in them (there should be a couple of inches of oil in the cup)
  • Pipettes (see, I use them constantly! :) )
  • Water

Back in 2013, one of my crew’s favorite experiments of the day was “Defying Gravity with Slime” using cotton candy. Thanks to Ms. Leavitt’s recent book, I was able to add two super fun variations to our experiments with cotton candy!

My first instruction was for each scientist to separate their cotton candy into four equal parts. Why four parts, you ask, if there are only three experiments? Well, my scientists are always obsessed with the idea of being able to take some cotton candy home with them…for eating. This ensures that they have a little chunk to take home with them :)

Cotton Candy Part 1: “Wormy Cotton Candy”

I asked the scientists to put one piece of their cotton candy down on a DRY plate (it is VERY important that the plate is dry since cotton candy reacts dramatically to water). Using a pipette, each scientist then slowly dropped water onto the cotton candy…drop by drop. The result is amazing! Wherever the water touches, it completely dissolves the fluffy cotton candy into a very small piece of gooey sugar water. By adding the water drop-by-drop with the pipette, each scientist can really see how this happens. It looks the way a piece of wood might if a worm was tunneling through! Some of my scientists carefully added water in a specific way so they could create their very own cotton candy sculptures. Others saw what was happening and squeezed a lot of water onto the cotton candy in one go so they could confirm how water really does dissolve it into almost nothing.

Cotton Candy Part 2: “Defying Gravity with Slime”

I now asked the scientists to take a fresh piece of the cotton candy and dip the bottom tip in the small cup with fresh water in it. And behold! The water travels lightning quick UP the cotton candy until all of the cotton candy dissolves into a dripping, sugary goo. How did this happen? Well, the sugar crystals and fibers of the cotton candy are so tightly woven that they create a stronger attraction for water molecules than even the downward pull of the force of gravity! Thus, the water quickly travels UP the cotton candy, dissolving the delicate fibers into goo. [The same effect can be seen when you touch a paper towel to water.]

Cotton Candy Part 3: “The Cotton Candy Sponge”

As far as I’m concerned, this experiment was the coolest – and yuckiest – one in the bunch. We know that cotton candy dissolves very quickly in water, but what happens when you dunk it into VEGETABLE OIL?  For this final experiment, my scientists took the final piece of cotton candy and dunked it into the cup that had a few inches of vegetable oil in it. The result? The cotton candy does not dissolve! It actually absorbs the oil, turning kind of translucent and gelatinous-looking in the process. Yuck! Some of my scientists wanted to see what would happen if they took the gooey blob of cotton candy/vegetable oil and now dunked it in the cup with the water. What they discovered is that the parts of the cotton candy that had not fully absorbed the oil now dissolved in the water, but the majority of the cotton candy floated rather sludge-like in the water cup!

SNAP, CRACKLE, POP ROCKS + DEMONSTRATION “POPCORN POP ROCKS”

Materials for experiment:

  • 1 pack of Pop Rocks for each scientists (Caution: Do not buy the Pop Rocks GUM…I learned that the hard way)
  • 1 cup with water

Materials for demonstration:

  • 1 pack of Pop Rocks
  • 1-2 tablespoons of hot water (I just used a Keurig machine to put some plain hot water in a cup)

For the experiment, I had everyone sample some of the Pop Rocks by pouring some into their mouths and then describing what they were feeling/hearing.  I then had all of the scientists pour some Pop Rocks into a cup of room-temperature water. We could hear the sound of the Pop Rocks popping all around the room! As the Pop Rocks dissolved in the water, they also bounced up and down in the cups. Pop Rocks have something in common with soda:  carbon dioxide. Just as manufacturers compress carbon dioxide and pump it into soda to give us the fun fizz and bubbles, they also compress and pump carbon dioxide into the candy that becomes Pop Rocks. Pop Rocks candies contain many tiny pockets of carbon dioxide. As they dissolve on your tongue (or in a glass of water), those tiny pockets of gas are released with a small popping sensation (or sound).

I chose to do the “Popcorn Pop Rocks” as a demonstration only because ideally each child should wear safety goggles if they are doing this one (and I don’t have enough to go around a large group). I gathered our group at a safe distance from where I sat, and had them watch as I poured 1-2 tablespoons of HOT water into a clear plastic cup. [NOTE: This experiment works best with a small amount of hot water, so don’t overfill!] I then pour some Pop Rocks directly into the cup. The result? Pop Rocks exploded up and out of the cup! In fact, it was several hours post-program before I realized that I still had some Pop Rocks in my hair :) Why does this happen? The hot water dissolves the candy of the Pop Rocks so quickly that the trapped carbon dioxide pockets literally explode as they are released.

Photo Feb 18, 4 48 46 PMPhoto Feb 18, 4 49 43 PMPhoto Feb 18, 4 49 44 PMPhoto Feb 18, 4 48 56 PMPhoto Feb 18, 4 49 49 PM

SQUASH THE UNSINKABLE

Materials:

  • Mini 3 Musketeers bars (2 for each scientist)
  • Tall, clear plastic cups filled with water

NOTE: 3 Musketeers are NOT safe for kids with nut allergies.

First, our scientists dropped a mini 3 Musketeers bar directly into a cup of water. What happened? It floated! I then had them smash a second 3 Musketeers bar so that it was super flat, and then drop it into the same cup of water. [I originally told them to pound it flat, but the little candy bar was resistant to pounding, so I amended my instructions and told them to squeeze it flat using their fingers.] Did it also float? NO. 3 Musketeers bars are made with a lot of air – that’s why the nougat center is so light and fluffy. When you flatten out the candy bar, you push out a lot of the air that keeps it floating (or buoyant).  [See our previous G3 post about buoyancy!]

UNSTICKY IT

Materials:

  • 1 bag of campfire sized marshmallows (enough for 1 marshmallow per scientist)
  • A cup with some water in it (I just had the scientists use some water from the 3 Musketeers cup from the previous experiment)

I always save this final experiment for the end because it is super simple, super quick, and something that is easy to take off of the roster for the day if time runs short. I had the scientists rip a large marshmallow in half and describe the texture of the marshmallow in its center. “Very sticky” is how almost everyone described it. I had the scientists touch the sticky edge of a marshmallow center to the water in their cups and then describe the texture to me again. Many said it became “slimy” or “smooth.” The explanation? When marshmallows are made, the corn syrup molecules do not form complete crystals. When you first pull the marshmallow apart, the stickiness is the result of those molecules looking for ways to connect with other molecules. When you dip the sticky edge in water, the corn syrup molecules form bonds with the water molecules and thus no longer are clinging to your finger looking to create similar bonds!

When all was finished, my scientists left the room buzzing about the experiments…and eager to sample whatever candy they had managed to set aside during the course of the program :)

Categories: Chemical Reactions, Color | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Program 38: Fun with Things that Glow!

Okay. So for our final G3 program of 2014, I wanted to do projects that were extremely simple but with a big “wow!” factor. I discovered both projects after a little exploring online and a peek at my favorite Steve Spangler Science web site. Who doesn’t love to see things glow in the dark?!… :)

I started us off with a fun presentation about “things that glow.” We learned that there are three major kinds of glowing:

  1. Fluorescence (glows when a black light is on)
  2. Phosphorescence (similar to fluorescence, but with a glow that can last even after the black light is turned off)
  3. Bioluminescence (from living organisms, like creatures that live in the deepest parts of the oceans; or fireflies)

I had trouble showing this video during the program, but this video does a great job of explaining the difference between fluorescence and bioluminescence:

We played a little with my black lights as well. Did you know that tonic water will glow bright blue under a black light in the dark?! The quinine in the tonic water reacts to the UV light from the black light. Vaseline (petroleum jelly) also has the same effect under a black light; you can even write secret messages on black paper to test this one out in the dark. There are a lot of things that will glow in the dark under a black light. What kinds of things have you discovered that glow in the dark with a black light?…

article-2036217-0DD29C3000000578-446_634x634One of my favorite discoveries to share with the G3 scientists was the work that modern scientists have been doing with real-world glow-in-the-dark animals! They’ve created cats, sheep, dogs, rabbits, and even monkeys that glow in the dark. For example, in 2007, South Korean scientists altered a cat’s DNA to make it glow in the dark and then took that DNA and cloned other cats from it — creating a set of fluffy, fluorescent felines. Why? It might give scientists a better way to track the progress of certain diseases in a living form and to figure out ways to create cures for things like AIDS. The short CNN video below briefly discusses the work of the South Korean scientists in particular with some great shots of the actual glow-in-the-dark cats:

American-firm-genetically-engineers-worlds-first-glow-in-the-dark-plant-_dezeen_4Scientists and other researchers are even working on creating glow-in-the-dark plants and trees as a way to develop an alternative light source. Imagine if some day you could walk down a city street under the light of trees instead of street lamps! However the science for this may have a ways to go since the amount of light the plants can generate appears to be significantly less than the fluorescent light from something like a street lamp… The video below showcases an example of the type of work being done in this area:

seadevil-d695-2_86346_990x742And if you ever want to watch some really fascinating footage about the deepest ocean and the kinds of creatures that live there, there are a lot of videos online…but you can start by checking out this National Geographic video about the anglerfish. VERY weird and super interesting creature!…

Now for our fun experiments of the day!…

EXPERIMENT 1:  Glow lava

glowlavaMaterials:

  • Baby oil (you can probably also use cooking oil, but I went with the completely clear baby oil; I bought value sized bottles at Walmart)
  • Glow-in-the-dark paint (you can also you the fluorescent coloring from a highlighter pen, but I thought the paint would be less messy than breaking open a bunch of highlighters)
  • Zip-seal clear sandwich bags
  • Clear packing tape
  • Warm water
  • Clear plastic cups with spoons for stirring
  • Tablespoon

I got the idea for this experiment from the blog Glowing a Jeweled Rose. It can be used with much younger children as well, but I suspected that my G3 scientists would love to get their hands on this fun bag of glow lava…and I was correct! First, you need to water down the glow-in-the-dark paint. I used a can of green glow paint from the Disney line (at Walmart). Before the program started, I put one full tablespoon of glow paint in each clear plastic cup. Doing this in a lighted room also gives the paint a chance to absorb as much light as possible before the scientists take part in the project. After I passed out the paint-filled cups to my crew, I walked around with my pitcher filled with pre-heated water and just poured enough water in each cup to fill maybe 1/3-1/2 of the cup. The scientists were instructed to stir until most of the paint had dissolved and they had a watery, milky liquid in their cups. [NOTE: I did have one scientist who stirred with a little too much force, and she got scared/startled when some of the warm liquid hit her bare hand. So be sure to instruct your scientists to stir carefully!]

I then passed around economy sized bottles of baby oil (also purchased at Walmart) for the kids to share at each table. I asked them to pour enough baby oil in the sandwich bags to get about 1-2 inches of oil in the bag. [NOTE: I was conservative because I wanted to make sure that we didn’t run out of baby oil, but I had plenty left over so the scientists could have easily gone to a full 1/4-1/3 bag of baby oil.]

After the oil was in the bag, I asked the scientists to add 1-4 tablespoons of the watered down paint to the bag, zip the bag closed (with as little extra air in the bag as possible), and then we sealed the opening with clear plastic tape to ensure it didn’t pop open while we played with the bags. To be honest, this turned out to be the trickiest step since many of my scientists got extra baby oil on the outside of the bags and we were having a hard time getting tape to actually stick around the opening.

At this point, the bags now function like a pretty cool lava lamp, since the watery paint does not mix with the oil. The big “wow!” effect happens when you get every scientist in their seats and turn off all the lights. The happy screams didn’t die down for quite some time :) I let our scientists play with the glow lava for a while…until I started to notice glowing bags twirling around in the air above their heads. Cue lights!

EXPERIMENT #2: “Vampire Veins”

worm-650-03Materials:

  • 1 Vampire Veins Insta-Worms kit from stevespanglerscience.com ($34.99) In the kit you receive:
    • 32 oz (1 liter) of Vampire Vein Worm Goo
    • 60 grams (2.1 oz) of Worm Activator Powder
    • Blue measuring scoop
    • 4 oz Worm Goo bottle
    • Handheld Battery Powered Black Light (Four AA-batteries not included) [NOTE: I had a lot of trouble finding a black light, so it was fantastic this kit included one. It’s small, but you can walk around the room and share the “wow!” moment with each scientist.]
    • Activity guide
  • Clear plastic cups
  • Spoons for stirring
  • Warm water
  • Squeeze bottles with a tapered opening – I used Wilton brand 6-ounce Mini Decorating Squeeze Bottles which I bought on Amazon for about $2/pair (I needed about 20…but I was fine with this expense because I’m sure I’ll use these handy bottles again in the future)

Any of you reading my blog may have noticed that one of my favorite science subjects is “polymers.” There are just so many cool things you can do with them. While this project/experiment has incredibly easy steps, it’s a LOT of fun. Prior to the program, I used the little blue measuring scoop and put one scoop of the white Worm Activator Powder in each scientist’s clear plastic cup. [I put it in 17 cups and still had extra to spare.] Also prior to the program, I poured a couple of inches of the green Vampire Vein Goo into each squeeze bottle. [I basically just made sure I had an even amount in each of the 17 squeeze bottles.]

After passing out the cups to my scientists, I again walked around with pre-warmed water and poured about a cup of water into each of their cups. They stirred until the white powder had dissolved, and then the fun began. They simply needed to hold the squeeze bottles above the cup of now milky water and squeeze the green Vampire Vein Goo directly into the cup. Instantly the solid worm chains form! How does this work? Basically, the white powder is a calcium solution that helps the polymers in the Vampire Vein Goo form chains as soon as the two solutions come in contact with each other. The best part of this experiment is that when you turn out the lights, you can make the “worms” glow in the dark under the black light!

There were endless screams of delight around the room for BOTH experiments when the lights went out. It was one of those programs that I wished we had more time with. I definitely splurged a little on supplies for this one, but it was the last G3 program of the year and I wanted us to leave 2014 with a lot of pizazz :) We’re taking January off, but we’ll be back to our scientific ways in February. Happy holidays to everyone, and be sure to check out the video below highlighting the fun we had with this program.

Categories: Glow in the Dark, Polymers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Program 37: Optical Illusions Revisited :)

Back by popular demand from some of the G3 scientists that have been with me for a while now, I chose to revisit our very fun ‘optical illusions’ program :)

Is it a rabbit, or a duck?

Is it a rabbit, or a duck?

Is it a woman or a musician?

Is it a woman or a musician?

Before movies (motion pictures) came into existence, did people entertain themselves with moving pictures in any way? Absolutely! For centuries, men and women have been fascinated with optical illusions. This fascination was particularly obvious in the 1800’s when a string of optical illusion inventions had enormous popularity. In fact, it was these inventions that eventually led to the successful creation of modern movies. But first, to get ourselves in the right frame of mind, I showed our G3 scientists a series of optical illusion images and asked them to share what they saw. Some of the images could be interpreted in 2 ways; some of the images played with perspective and made objects of a similar size seem larger or smaller than each other; and some images just seemed impossible (like the elephant with an endless number of legs!). What do you see in the images to the right? The image below is a fun optical illusion print by Currier and Ives that Mark Twain himself proudly hung in his home – you can still see it on display if you visit his home in Hartford, CT!

Blossom and Decay (Currier and Ives)

Blossom and Decay (Currier and Ives)

After we finished playing with the optical illusion images, we turned our attention to the popular optical illusion toys that led to the creation of modern movies…and our G3 scientists were tasked with recreating several of them. The basic timeline for the toys/devices is as follows:

  1. Thaumatrope (1824)
  2. Phenakistoscope (1833)
  3. Zoetrope (1834)
  4. Praxinoscope (1877)
  5. “Modern” movies!

Thaumtrope

rondelle thaumatroperondelle 15rondelle 13The Thaumatrope (“Turning Marvel” or “Wonder Turner”) gained in popularity in Victorian London when it was presented at the Royal College of Physicians to represent the “persistence of vision.” The persistence of vision is a scientific principle which notes that the human eye retains memory of an image for 1/20 of a second past when an image has already left our field of vision.  This persistence of vision helps make many optical illusions possible since the human eye actually imperceptibly blurs together a series of still images and tricks the human brain into thinking separate images are actually part of the same larger image. Even though the Thaumatrope had a surge of popularity in the 1800’s, there was a reported discovery of a prehistoric thaumatrope carved on a bone disc and found in 1868 in the Dordogne, France! [Note: the linked web site is in French.]  You can read more about the discovery of several presumed prehistoric thaumatropes here. The images of the prehistoric thaumatrope from Dordogne are to the right.

EXPERIMENT SERIES 1:  THAUMATROPES

Materials:

  • Drinking straws (bendy or straight straws – it doesn’t make a difference)
  • Clear tape
  • Print-outs of sample thaumatropes (you can also allow the kids to design their own using a pair of blank circles)

Our G3 scientists were able to create their own Thaumatrope. One of the most classic pair of images used is a bird and a cage…so that when the thaumatrope starts to spin it looks like the bird is actually inside the cage. For our thaumatropes, we used the image of a bird and an image of a branch on Made by Joel. We also used a drinking straw to spin between the two images versus using a string or rubber band attached to both ends of the images. The results were amazing and our scientists were enthralled by the optical illusion created. I also provided our scientists with thaumatropes of a bee and a flower, a smiling cat, fireflies in a jar, and the classic bird in a cage. Below you can see video examples of both the bird/branch and the bee/flower thaumatropes in action.

Phenakistoscope

Using a mirror to see the phenakistoscope in motion…

The thaumatrope eventually evolved into the phenakistoscope. The phenakistoscope is a disc mounted on an axis that when spun gives the impression of a scene in motion. In order for the illusion to work, the viewer needs to face the image towards a mirror. When it is spun, the viewer looks through the slits along the edges toward the images presented in the mirror. Discs/wheels with different images could be placed on the axis to give the viewer a chance to see different types of action. The phenakistoscope was a step up from the thaumatrope because of the number of images that could be used together to create the impression of motion. The thaumatrope can only use two images, which extremely limits the optical illusion motion; the phenakistoscope can make use of a series of images to present a larger range of motion. Check out the youtube video below…

EXPERIMENTS 2:  A SIMPLE PHENAKISTOSCOPE

Materials:

  • Template of the phenakistoscope disc
  • Cardstock paper (any color)
  • Glue (I preferred glue sticks)
  • Markers (for decorating the template – the animation is more visible if you decorate using striking colors)
  • Pencils
  • Push pins
  • A mirror for viewing

photo 2photo 1Our G3 scientists were also able to create their very own phenakistoscope. The template disc was copied from a book called Troubador Treasury. After the disc template was copied out of the book, I glued it onto a cardstock backing using a glue stick. Once it was dry, I cut out the disk and the slits around the edges (I was generous with the size of the slits since slightly larger slits can lead to easier viewing of the animation. I allowed our G3 crew to decorate their own discs using markers and colored pencils (the brighter the colors, the easier it is to view them; and I encouraged our scientists to use color consistently for the best animation – if you make the pants red in one panel they should be red in all panels). The disc was then attached to the eraser of a pencil using a pushpin, and a floor length mirror was handy for viewing the resulting illusion/animation. There is a trick to viewing through the phenakistoscope, so it took some of our scientists a few tries to get the knack of viewing. But once they did, it was a pretty cool thing to behold! You need to look through the slits to the mirror (not over the top of the spinning disc to the mirror image). I also provided our scientists with a blank disc template for creating their own phenakistoscope discs on their own. As an example, I created one of my own following the instructions for a blinking eye from ZOOM on PBS Kids.

Zoetrope

The zoetrope’s great improvement over the phenakistoscope was that multiple people could view the illusion of animation at the same time (the phenakistoscope was limited to one person because of the way it needed to be viewed through slits in a mirror). The Zoetrope made use of a core of mirrors to reflect the images from a disc of spinning images. Disney Pixar was inspired by Studio Ghibli’s example and took the idea of the zoetrope to new levels by creating a 3D model of a zoetrope using popular characters from Toy Story movies. The youtube video below is a really amazing look at how many animated movies are made!

Praxinoscope

Though we did not have the materials necessary to recreate a praxinoscope during the program, I brought in my personal praxinoscope to show all of our scientists exactly how one works. The praxinoscope is the pre-cursor to modern movies! With this device, for every image on the wheel/disc, there needs to be a matching mirror in the center. When the device is spun, thanks to the persistence of vision and how our brain interprets the spinning images, it appears that an object is in motion. My praxinoscope had a disk of a man on a horse. When spun, it looked like the horse was galloping. If it was spun in the opposite direction, it looked like the horse was galloping backwards! The praxinoscope was without a doubt a favorite among the scientists.

Modern Movies

Where modern movies improve leaps and bounds above the other optical illusion devices is the number of images that can be used. Even the praxinoscope is limited in the number of images it is possible to string together to create motion. With modern movies, still images are captured with special cameras onto film reels. When they are played back, it appears that there is continuous action from people, items, and events. In the past few decades, there has been more frequent use of digital filming (which operates in an entirely different way than traditional movies in how it captures motion). But even today, most movies you see in the theater are made up of a series of still images that are rapidly played back to give viewers the illusion of motion!

See you next month for a little work with our favorite subject (polymers) and some very cool goo…

Categories: Optical Illusions | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Program 36: Wind

windydayI’ve been wanting to do a weather program for a while, and I finally got all of the perfect fun pieces together for a wind-themed G3 program!

My opening presentation was a lot of fun for this topic. We talked about mythology (all of the cultures that had a god representing wind, e.g., the Greek god Aeolus). We talked about world record wind speeds – the record originally belonged to Mt. Washington with a recorded wind speed of 231 miles per hour, but as of 1996 the record belongs to Barrow Island Australia with a recorded surface wind speed of 253 miles per hour! We even talked briefly about the daring kite fighting events in countries like Brazil, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan where kite strings are coated with powdered glass and people battle to take down other kites!

My group also had a lot of laughs over this hilarious video of people in Norway trying to cross a street as Storm Ivan hits. At one point, you can even see how the police have to start escorting elderly people across the street because they literally can’t walk across on their own! :)

Thanks to our “visit” with Bill Nye the Science Guy via his episode on Wind, we also got a very good explanation for not only how winds are created, but also how other weather phenomena occur…like hail storms. With Bill Nye’s parting wisdom, we were ready to launch into our two main experiments of the day:  Windbags and Anemometers.

Experiment #1:  Windbags

wwin-07Materials

  • I purchased packs of “wind bags” from the Steve Spangler web site because that was simplest, but you can actually create your own windbags using the cartridges that come from diaper genies and the like; you should ideally have 1 bag per scientist

Our experiment was really very simple. Each windbag needs to be knotted closed at one end (I did this in advance so my scientists wouldn’t have to worry about that detail). For my first demonstration to the group, I pinched the open end mostly closed and asked them how much air they thought I could trap in the windbag with 3 large breaths by putting my mouth right up to the opening. After my 3 breaths, I fully closed the open end and dragged my hand down the length of the windbag until I had gathered my air at one end (I only gathered about 1-2 feet of air in the bag). My second attempt created a perfect launching pad for explaining the Bernoulli Principle to the group. Holding the open end of the windbag wide open, keeping my mouth back from the opening about 6 inches, and doing just one giant breath, I was able to trap significantly more air in the windbag! Why did this happen? When I blew into the windbag, it created an area of lower air pressure inside the bag than outside it. Bernoulli’s Principle suggests that the atmosphere wants to remain balanced, so air from the outside of the bag actually races into the bag alongside my breath to help stabilize the pressure and make it match the pressure outside the bag. My scientists had a blast testing this out time and again (and, of course, jousting with the full windbags when they were finished) :)

 Experiment #2:  Anemometers

Materials

  • Paper cups (I used dixie cups, but you can also create this using regular sized cups); you will need 5 cups per scientist
  • Pencils (1 per scientist)
  • Pushpins (1 per scientist)
  • Plastic straws (2 per scientist; you can use either bendy or straight straws, whatever you have on hand)
  • Scotch tape
  • Sticker dots or magic markers (you need to mark the base of one of the outer cups so you have a way to visually count revolutions – you can use markers, but I had some colored sticker dots handy and used them instead)
  • Single-hole paper punch or scissors

While this project was fairly easy to assemble, there are a few temperamental steps along the way where my scientists needed an extra hand. Before my program, I did a little preparation in advance. Each scientist will receive 5 paper cups. Four of those cups will need 2 holes about a half inch to an inch below the lip. You can use scissors to punch the holes, but I used my handy single-hole paper punch to pop them in. [I marked the cup lips lightly with pencil to help guide my use of the paper punch.] The fifth cup will need 4 holes evenly spaced around the cup, also a half inch to an inch below the lip. And in this fifth cup you may want to also punch a hole in the center of the bottom of the cup in advance (I forgot to do this and several of my scientists had trouble doing this on their own). I won’t go into detail about all of the steps here because there are two great sites that give detailed explanations:

  1. This instructables.com post had some excellent step-by-step photos for creating a simple paper cup anemometer
  2. I liked this Southeast Regional Climate Center PDF for its descriptions on the various steps, and in particular, I liked the table at the end of the PDF that gives you a translation for “revolutions in seconds” to both “miles per hour” AND “kilometers per hour” for the actual wind speed you’re recording

There are lots of sites that give similar though differing instructions for how to create simple anemometers – the two above sites were my favorites.

One of the steps that gave my scientists some trouble was positioning the 4 outer cups on the straws. The tricky parts were 1) using the scotch tape to make sure the cups remained in a sideways position, and 2) making sure that all cups were pointed in the correct direction and were optimized for capturing wind.  You also need to make sure that in the final step, when the pushpin is pushed through the crossing straws into the pencil eraser, the pin is loose enough in the eraser that the cups can freely spin when they encounter wind.

Since going outside to test the anemometers with real wind wasn’t going to be an option for me, I brought in my hair dryer from home and let the kids take turns. On the plus side, the kids enjoyed seeing the anemometers successfully rotating and moving with the air. On the negative side, the blow dryer wind was too strong to allow for doing actual readings with our anemometers. It worked better the further back I stepped from the scientists, but it still wasn’t ideal for doing actual recordings. Perhaps a fan would generate a gentle enough wind for real-time tests of the anemometers…

This was the final program in this current session, but look for more fun from Gizmos, Gadgets and Goo when my scientists and I return to our experiments in November and December. In the meantime, check out the fun video of our “wind” activities below… :)

Categories: Weather | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Program 35: SOUND!!!

soundFor the first program of our Fall 2014 season, I wanted to give our G3 scientists some activities that let them really go wild (after all, starting up school and homework after a lovely summer holiday can be pretty tough stuff!). And what is more fun than creating a lot of really obnoxiously loud noises? :)

SOUND is a very fun subject to study, especially since I have so many new faces in my G3 programs this season. I started us off with some brief descriptions of the nature of sound and how sound waves work:

  • When objects vibrate, the vibrations are projected into the air and create sound waves.
  • The sound waves are composed of tiny particles called atoms and the molecules that make up air.
  • Even though you cannot see sound waves with the naked eye, you can often feel sound vibrations. [If you’re looking to explore this further, how about testing out your very own “sound gun” at home? Trust me, it’s a blast! :) ]

And most of the scientists successfully answered all of my tricky true and false questions. From the series of questions, we learned a lot of cool facts about sound:

    • Outer space is the only truly silent place in our world…because there is no air to help distribute the sound waves.
    • Sound vibrations can be carried through more than just air – they can also move through water, woods, metals, and plastics. As an example, Ludwig van Beethoven (the famous composer who was deaf) would often hold a long wooden stick in his teeth, resting the other end on a piano wire. When he played the piano, the vibrations from the piano wire would travel through the stick, through his teeth, through his skull bone, and then directly to his inner ear where he could make sense of the sounds.

Venomous-Eyelash-Viper-snake-photos (7)

  • Snakes have no ears, but a bone inside a snake’s head picks up vibrations from the ground.
  • Female Barn Owl

    Female Barn Owl

    Did you know that owls are a bit lopsided? They have one ear slightly lower than the other so that they always have one ear a little closer to sounds on the ground where they look for their food/prey. [And as one of our G3 scientists pointed out, the higher ear is closer to sounds from above where predators might approach the owl…]

  • When you put a sea shell up to your ear, you are not actually hearing the ocean. The shell ispicking up vibrations from all of the sounds occurring around you, and those sounds are making the air inside the shell vibrate and carry sound to your ear.
  • If you ever hear someone’s stomach growling very loudly, you can say to them, “Your borborygmi is quite loud!” Borborygmi is the fancy scientific term used to describe the process that creates a growling stomach.

And I even found some cool examples of record-breaking sounds to share with our group:

  • Krakatoa

    Krakatoa

    The loudest natural sound in recorded history is still the volcanic eruption on the island of Krakatoa that occurred on August 27, 1883. The sound could be heard (and felt) 3,000 miles away!

  • The pistol shrimp, only 2 inches long, can eject a powerful jet of water traveling at over 60 mph from it’s one over-sized claw. The snapping sound itself reaches 218 decibels (your eardrum ruptures at 150 decibels). And at the moment the jet of water explodes from the claw, portions of the stream can reach temperatures as hot as the sun!

  • The loudest animal in the world, relative to size, is the water boatman.
  • The loudest mammal is the blue whale; the loudest land mammal is the howler monkey; the loudest amphibian is the croqui frog; the loudest bird is the oilbird. [Source: National Geographic]
  • Japan holds the world record for the most Theremin instruments playing in unison. What’s a Theremin? Check out the video below to find out…

But we never do just discussions in our G3 programs…we’re scientists after all! So I had a full series of small experiments for us to do, to help us explore sound in a variety of ways.

Experiment #1:   Humming Hangers

This experiment never fails to impress! There are many sites that describe how to perform this experiment. It is a very simple experiment, but one with a very cool pay-off. You simply tie a piece of string or yarn (about 1-2 feet long) to each end of a metal clothes hanger. STEP ONE:  Swing the hanger against a table or other solid object. What sound do you hear? STEP TWO: With the strings wrapped once around each of your index fingers, put your fingers in your ears and lean forward to swing the hanger against the solid object again. What sound do you hear now?  RESULT: The first sound should be a light dinging noise; the second sound should be almost like a loud gong. ANSWER: With the second attempt, you are giving sound a more direct, quicker path to your inner ear…for a much louder, and more accurate, representation of the sound created.

Experiment #2:  Visualizing Vibrations

Materials:

  • Paper towel tubes
  • Balloons (any kind, any color)
  • Small mirrors, about 1 to 2″ square (I got packs of 25 small square mirrors at Michael’s Craft Store)
  • Scotch tape
  • Scissors

photo-1This experiment gave us a handy way to see sound vibrations just using our eyes, though we needed to play around with the procedure to get the best results. All you need is a recycled paper towel tube [some versions use a tin can with both ends removed], a balloon, and a small square mirror. You cut the balloon in half (you really only need enough of the top of the balloon to stretch across the opening of the paper towel tube – try to get as flat a surface as possible). Once the balloon is stretched across one end of the tube, you can hold it in place with pieces of scotch tape. [NOTE 1: most procedures suggest holding the balloon in place with a rubber band. We learned that paper towel tubes are not made as firmly as they used to be (probably due to recycling), so they were collapsing in on themselves when we wrapped rubber bands around the ends. The scotch tape worked much better.] You then tape a small square of mirror to the center of the balloon (by putting a small roll of tape on the center of the balloon end, and then just placing the mirror on top of the tape roll), making sure the mirror doesn’t touch the tube itself. You then ask a partner to point a flashlight directly at the mirror. The light reflects off the mirror onto the wall in front of you. When you speak into the tube or make a noise, the vibrations caused by your voice will cause the light waves to vibrate as well. Now you can actually SEE sound vibrations! [NOTE 2:  My scientists and I had the most difficulty with this experiment. There were varying degrees of success depending on how the flashlights were held, how firmly or loosely the mirror was attached to the stretched balloon, and how taught or loose the balloon surface was on the tube. This experiment definitely requires a little hands-on love from instructors and a decent amount of time to let kids work out the hiccups with their partners.]

*Experiment #3:  Sound Sandwiches

The last time I did SOUND with my G3 scientists, we created Super Easy Noise Makers. I wanted to try something a little different this time around, and I definitely found a project that was equally as noisy, satisfying, and pretty much guaranteed to succeed for all! I believe this project, hands down, was our scientists’ favorite of the day (though several kids were still in awe of the cool result from the Humming Hangers – I actually sent the kids home with the wire hangers in case they only had plastic ones at home).

Materials:

  • Craft sticks, large and small (I used colorful ones just for some pizzazz)
  • Rubber bands of various sizes (I used size 84 with the large sticks though this was probably a tad too big, and I used a standard home office rubber band for the small sticks; basically, you want to make sure that the rubber band will wrap flat around the sticks but will not completely cover the sticks…you should see a margin of the stick surrounding the rubber band on all sides)
  • Drinking straws, cut up into 2″ pieces

You can click on the experiment title above to see a video demonstration of exactly how to assemble the sound sandwiches. They were fantastically fun! We made the large ones, the small ones, and even some triple and quadruple stacked sound sandwiches! Our scientists had a lot of fun imitating what they imagined old men laughing might sound like, and I’m pretty sure my large sound sandwich sounded like a dying animal (hahaha) :)

As always, my scientists went home with plates full of their projects and even a few extra supplies to help them recreate some sound sandwiches at home with younger siblings. I love how the G3 crew often leaves my program excited to share their knowledge with younger science lovers at home.

Next week be sure to check out the fun we’ll have playing with wind!…

 

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Reminder: It’s time to register for G3 in the Fall!

Hi, fellow scientists!

Just a quick reminder that it’s time to register for our first Fall series of G3 programs :)

Track A is September 11 and 25

Track B is September 18 and October 2

We’ll have a lot of fun, so I hope I’ll see you there! You can register online on the Event calendar at cheshirelibrary.com

See you soon!…

woman-lego-scientist

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G3 & the Mecha Rams in the Record Journal!

There was a lovely article about our Robotics series of programs in the Saturday, July 26th edition of the Record Journal! You can click on the picture below to see a larger, more readable version of the article :)

July262014_CheshireHeraldArticle

Categories: In the News, Robotics, robots | Tags: | Leave a comment

Summer 2014: Summer of the Robots FINAL DAY

Photo Jul 24, 3 39 39 PMWe had a fantastic final day for our summer series exploring robotics with the Cheshire High School Mecha Rams.  The teen and adult mentors were amazing and taught our G3 scientists so much about how to think like an engineer, how to think like a programmer, and how to use some very interesting software to make the LEGO® Mindstorms robots come to life.

At the start of the day, our scientists broke into their teams from Day 2 (The Cyber Rams, The Mechanical Monkeys, The Iron Cheetahs, and The Metal Dragons) and began to really get hands-on with the computer programming and actually using the controllers to move the robots around the obstacle course that came with the Mindstorm kits. When everyone had a handle on how to maneuver the robot, we began a series of timed runs within each team to see how quickly each team member could complete the obstacle course.

Photo Jul 24, 3 37 07 PMThe obstacle course required more than just steering the robot around a track. Our scientists had to remove obstacles from the track, as well as align a sensor on the bottom of the robot with key markers on the track. Going too far astray from the track resulted in penalties (time substracted from the final time it took a driver to complete the course overall).

When all individual team members had completed a full, timed run of the course, our adult mentors calculated the average time it took each team to complete the course. [This was done by adding all team members’ times together, and then dividing by the number of team members who completed the course.]  The results gave us an overall results lists for our teams in this final day of competition:

FOURTH PLACE TEAM:  The Metal Dragons

THIRD PLACE TEAM:  The Mechanical Monkeys

SECOND PLACE TEAM:  The Cyber Rams

FIRST PLACE TEAM:  The Iron Cheetahs

Then, the top drivers were selected from each team to compete and see which single driver could take the high honors of the day for having the quickest run through the obstacle course. In the case of the Cyber Rams, two of the drivers were so close in time that they were able to send two members to the final individual competition. The final standings for “Best Driver of the Day” were:

FIFTH PLACE:  Steven from the Cyber Rams (1 minute, 23 seconds)

FOURTH PLACE:  Ethan from the Metal Dragons (1 minute, 6 seconds)

THIRD PLACE:  Isak from the Mechanical Monkeys (50 seconds)

SECOND PLACE:  Manny from the Iron Cheetahs (36 seconds)

FIRST PLACE:  Zachary from the Cyber Rams (33 seconds)

In a very dramatic turn of events, Zachary (who competed early), lodged a protest with our mentors due to a change in how we allowed drivers to fully remove debris from the course once an obstacle (a small rubber tire) was properly pushed off its mark. At the time that Zachary did his first run, we had suggested that the debris needed to remain on the course where it landed. So in proper competition format, Zachary was allowed to file a protest with the “judge,” and our adult mentors agreed that he had successfully supported his case and earned a second run at the course. Well done, Zachary!

A big “thank you!” to all of the Cheshire High School Mecha Rams – both the teens and their adult mentors – for making this summer very exciting for our G3 scientists. Hopefully we’ll get to continue working with the Mecha Rams for summers to come.  Enjoy the video below that shows all of the terrific work our G3 scientists and their mentors did on this final day of the robotics series :)

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Summer 2014: Robots, Day 2 or 3

imagesDay 2 of our 3-part summer series on robotics was a blast! Jeff Goodin started us off with a great introductory discussion about robotics, pointing out that robotics exist everywhere in our daily lives. There are sensors that automatically turn on water faucets or flush our toilets; there are sensors in cars that help us park our cars and avoid running into objects; and scientists can even create fully functioning hands and arms for people who may lose their limb in an accident! When Jeff asked our kids if they could think of any other things that might be robotic, one of our young scientists even recommended the creation of a robot squirrel to help get kites out of trees :)

Jeff was again joined by adult mentors Ray Kelchner, Rob Brucato, and Joe Grzybowski and current teen and alum members of the Mecha Rams:  Sean Kelchner, Christian Kenney, Michael Defranesco, and Bella Guo (alum). Jeff kept the introduction short, because there was no time to waste – the purpose of day 2 was to get our G3 scientists familiar with the LEGO® Mindstorms kits. But before we jumped into the days activities, there was one very important task that needed to be taken care of:  choosing official team names for the competition that will take place on Day 3!  Our 4 groups of young scientists became…

  1. The Cyber Rams
  2. The Mechanical Monkeys
  3. The Iron Cheetahs
  4. The Metal Dragons

Kids had the opportunity to again make some buttons – this time with their team name on them. There were also several stations set up with laptop computers and the LEGO® Mindstorm software. Most of the program time was an opportunity for our G3 crew to work with the teen and adult mentors to learn how to program the LEGO® robots and test the programs they created. We also had a station set up with iPads so that our kids could continue to practice coding with Angry Birds on code.org. After some failed attempts with unexpected results, most of our teams were able to successfully program a robot and watch it fully perform an expected series of actions.

Next week, the final day of our program series, our teams will be hard at work preparing for the day’s competition(s). I wonder which team will be the victor?… :)

Categories: Robotics, robots | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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