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


  • 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”


  • 1 Vampire Veins Insta-Worms kit from ($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!


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.



  • 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.


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…



  • 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.


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!


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


  • 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


  • 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 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


    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


  • 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).


  • 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!…


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

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

See you soon!…


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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 🙂


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


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 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?… 🙂

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Summer 2014: Robots, Day 1 of 3

I like to refer to the summer of 2014 as “Return of the Robots!” We had such a great time with the Cheshire High School Mecha Rams (FIRST Robotics Team #999) that I couldn’t wait to invite them back for another program series this summer. Jeff Goodin was just as excited as me by the idea, and he and his teen mentors have worked hard to put together a great series of events and activities for our G3 scientists to introduce them to the amazing world of robotics.  Jeff was unable to join us for this first day, but he had adult mentors Ray Kelchner, Rob Brucato, and Joe Grzybowski do a bang-up job of filling in for him. They were joined by current teen and alum members of the Mecha Rams:  Sean Kelchner, Christian Kenney, Michael Defranesco, Dan Fisher, and Bella Guo (alum). The teens will attend the full program series to help mentor our young scientists through all of the activities.

One of the coolest moments of the day had to be be when our G3 crew was introduced to the Mecha Rams award-winning robot, “Tomorrow.” Last year, their robot didn’t survive the rigorous competition rounds; this year, we were lucky to see the actual competition robot in action. The goal this year was to design a robot that could launch a ball through a hoop. Points could be achieved by actually sending the ball through the hoop, but they could also be achieved by assisting other robots to do the same. Ray Kelchner described the robot competitions as something like a basketball game. Your team combines with other teams, and you have brief strategy discussions to see who will perform what function on the team. You might be on “offense” and work to launch a ball through a hoop. You might be on “defense” and work to protect your own goal. You also might be like a point guard, who “assists” other players by putting them in the perfect position to score points for the larger team. The robot Tomorrow actually turned out to be a great “assist” robot, feeding balls to other robots for scoring maneuvers.

After meeting Tomorrow and watching the Mecha Rams manipulate him both outside in the parking and indoors in our program room, it was time to divide the room into 3 large groups for the day’s activities. There were 3 stations set up in the room:

  1. STATION ONE:  BUTTON MAKING.  Students were allowed to design and produce their own wearable button. A big part of robotics competitions involves the fanfare and team spirit – many people show their support and spirit through the vast number of thematic buttons they wear to the competition venues.
  2. STATION TWO:  COMPUTER CODING.  Working on laptops or iPads, the G3 crew got some practice with coding…coding an Angry Birds game, that is, by visiting 🙂
  3. STATION THREE:  THINK LIKE A PROGRAMMER.  Working in groups of three or four, our G3 scientists programmed each other using a handy robot dictionary that was provided by the Mecha Rams. They wrote their own code with paper and pencil to guide a human “robot” through a maze with the goal of picking up a beach ball from the floor.


Our G3 crew had a lot of fun making their own buttons. The designs ranged from cool pictures to fun team names to just buttons showcasing their own names.


When we took a vote at the end of the day, this activity by far was the favorite among our G3 crew. They worked in pairs on either a laptop or iPad to practice their coding skills with the fun of Angry Birds thrown in. Of course that was a blast! Several kids even came up to me as the program day ended to make sure I was posting the web site on my blog post so they could visit it again on their own time and continue playing with code (and Angry Birds!) 🙂


This station was a lot of fun because it really showed our G3 crew how difficult it is to think like a programmer. The kids were first given a “robot dictionary” to help them in designing the instructions they would give their human partner (acting as a robot) to walk through a maze and pick up a beach ball at the end. All groups were given the opportunity to walk through the maze, testing their code, before they made a formal attempt to complete the course. When they were ready, the person giving the code turned their back to the maze (so they couldn’t see what their partner was doing on the course itself). Instructions were given one-by-one, and the partner in the course was forced to only perform actions as instructed by their partner. Many of our teams discovered just how difficult it was to get a person through the course to the end. In fact, when Rob Brucato turned the “announcer” around to see where their “robot” partner ended up, some of our kids even had a hard time spotting their “robot” partner in the room because they had gone so far off course!


Later this week, the G3 scientists will do their first hands-on work with the LEGO® Mindstorms kits and continue fine-tuning their coding and programming skills. We’ll also be putting our G3 scientists into their smaller competition teams, they’ll come up with formal team names, and even create their own team buttons!  All of this will lead up to the final program of our series on July 24th, when the G3 teams will actually compete in a final challenge using their robots. I can’t wait to see my G3 scientists dive into their hands-on work with the robots 🙂


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Program 34: ArtBots!

Art + Robots = Crazy Fun!

The G3 scientists and I LOVED this most recent program that tested our skills on the gadget/gizmo end of the spectrum. With a few simple items from the dollar store plus a little tenacity (some of the connections can be a little finicky), we created with our own hands some nifty “robots” that created art!  I’ll stray a bit from my usual style of blog posts to include step-by-step instructions with pictures below (as I found that particularly handy in explaining the project to others). There are many sites that actually provide instructions for how to create versions of artbots, but I rarely found one with pictures (and personally I find visual references very helpful). So here goes! If you have any questions, feel free to post them to comments and I’ll see if I can give some needed advice 🙂


  • Electric toothbrush + some spares (I purchased the Luminant brand battery-operated brushes sold at Dollar Tree; I found it handy to have a few spares on hand)
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Box cutter (to cut the pool noodles down to size)
  • Electrical tape + scissors (though masking tape or duct tape probably work similarly)
  • A styrofoam pool noodle (I found these at Dollar Tree as well)
  • Rubber bands
  • Markers or pens (thin or thick – makes no difference!)
  • Spare batteries (just in case the one that came with the toothbrush is a dud)
  • Any other supplies you want to use for decorating

STEP ONE:  Test the toothbrush battery and motor


Step 1

This is a simple enough test. Following the instructions on the back of the toothbrush package, you simply need to insert the battery into the toothbrush and turn it on. I found that some of the toothbrushes were a bit temperamental even at this step. If the toothbrush didn’t work at first, I give the brush a gentle shake or smack with my hand. On the rare occasion that even that didn’t turn the brush on, I provided a new battery and that fixed the problem.

STEP TWO:  Removing the battery casing


Step 2B

Step 2A

Step 2A

This step takes a little muscle and the needle-nosed pliers. Pull the bottom off the toothbrush, remove the battery, and look inside. You’ll see a circle of plastic – that’s the top of the battery casing. You need to grasp one edge of the casing with the pliers and firmly yank to pull the battery casing outside of the toothbrush casing. On a rare occasion, the metal piece attached to the battery casing pulled off during this step. If that happened, I had a spare toothbrush on hand for my scientist to use.

STEP THREE: Removing the motor with spring

This step was a favorite for a lot of my scientists 🙂 With luck, you may find that the motor and spring naturally fall out of the toothbrush casing when you pull out the battery casing. If that doesn’t happen, you need to shake it loose from the toothbrush. My scientists and I discovered that the best way to do this was to the throw the toothbrush down onto a carpeted floor. If you use this method, be aware that the spring may detach from the motor. It’s easy enough to hook the spring back onto the motor, but you may lose sight of the spring itself, especially if you have a dark-colored carpet like we have in our program room. In a few cases we needed to crack open some spare toothbrushes simply to pirate the spring piece for one of my scientists.

After steps two and three, you should have the following two pieces:


Battery Casing + Motor with Spring

Step 4

Step 4

STEP FOUR:  Put the battery back in the casing

You’ll notice in the picture above that the metal piece attached to the battery casing has a longer straight piece that sticks out above the smooth, curved edge of the casing – and a shorter end that sticks out from the end that has two little plastic “legs.” When you put the battery back into the casing, you want the positive end (with the bump) to stick out from the same end as the little plastic legs.

STEP FIVE:  Creating the base of our re-purposed motor


Step 5C

Step 5B

Step 5B

Step 5A

Step 5A

For this step, you use the bottom, colored piece from the toothbrush itself and place the battery with casing from the above step into the colored piece (this is the piece from the toothbrush that actually has the on/off switch on it). The battery should go into the colored piece with the positive end first (the end with the bump). As you’re pushing the battery into the colored piece, you also want to line up the metal square on the colored piece with the metal piece from the battery casing. The metal piece from the battery casing should overlap the metal square on the base piece (refer to the pictures on the right). When you have the metal pieces overlapping, and you’re sure that the battery is pushed fully into the base piece, you should securely tape these components together with the electrical tape. [It’s okay to have the tape directly touch the metal pieces – you need to make sure this connection stays secure.]

STEP SIX:  Attaching the motor and spring to the battery and base


Step 6C

Step 6B

Step 6B

Step 6A

Step 6A

This is by far the trickiest step – not because it is difficult to put the pieces together but because the connections themselves need to be spot on or you won’t have a functioning motor. Looking at the motor and spring, you’ll see that on one side there are two small copper connectors on either side of the motor. The copper connector on the left is attached to the spring – the connector on the right is slightly curved but is not attached to anything. It is the right copper connector that you need to work with. You need to hook and/or align the metal piece still sticking up from the top of the battery/base component to that free copper connector on the right. I actually found it very handy to have the on/off switch of the base in the “on” position for this step so you can be sure when you have all pieces properly aligned. Once your connection is good and your motor is spinning – with the the base still turned “on” – firmly tape the motor and spring to the battery/base component with the spring in direct contact with the battery.  I also found that, on occasion, I needed to jury-rig the whole assembly once everything was taped together because despite repeated taping attempts the battery in the base kept slipping a little. This fix was simple enough – a double-wrapped rubber band placed around the whole assembly length-wise (you will have to wiggle it a little to make sure the on/off switch is still accessible, and you need to make sure the spinning portion of the motor is free on the other end). This fix consistently worked for several of my scientists and me.

STEP SEVEN:  Putting the final pieces together


Step 7B

Step 7A

Step 7A

Now we’re getting to the really fun stuff! I cut manageable pieces from the styrofoam pool noodles (about 4.5 inches in length) – you can do this with scissors, but I found it much easier to do with a box cutter. [NOTE: I did this step in advance of the program and then just let my scientists choose their favorite color.]  You take your fully taped motor assembly and push it into the hole inside the pool noodle piece, making sure that the on/off switch remains exposed for easy access. [NOTE:  You should once again test your device to make sure no connections have come loose by turning it “on” at this point.  If the motor is no longer turning on, simply pull it out of the styrofoam piece and retape where necessary.]  Place rubber bands around the outside of the pool noodle piece near both the top and bottom of the piece. Attach as many markers as you want by pushing them under the rubber bands, with the inked ends sticking out from the opposite end of the on/off switch. Now give the piece a good test by placing it onto a piece of scrap paper and turning it on.

FINAL STEP:  Decorate!

Now that you have a fully functioning device, truly transform it into an “artbot” by decorating your robot and giving it some real personality. I provided our scientists with pipe cleaners, googly eyes, feathers, and fun buttons. Some artbots can be made using plastic cups and the like, but the beauty of the styrofoam pool noodle pieces is that decorating is a snap! All you need to do is push materials directly into the styrofoam – no glue or tape required.


Let’s Decorate!

Now you can just have some fun 🙂 I actually covered our usual program tables with paper so my scientists didn’t even have to worry about scrap paper. Once the artbots were assembled and decorated, my scientists had free reign of table surfaces to create their art. At some point, of course, the battery will likely wear out and you will need to pull the motor assembly out of the styrofoam, remove the tape, and replace the battery. But that’s a simple price to pay for such a fun gadget!


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