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Recently in Science Fair Project Ideas

Building a Solar-powered Bristlebot


Adding solar panels to a brushbot project gives a new twist to an intermediate robotics building activity, but does it offer more power? With this clever build and a kit from the Science Buddies Store, it was easy to put that question to the test!

Advanced Bristlebot Solar-Powered Kit and Hands-on Robotics Project - multiple imagesAdvanced Bristlebot Solar-Powered Kit and Hands-on Robotics Project - bear head or googly eyes

After a successful series of building robots using Science Buddies procedures, we recently gave the Solar-powered Bristlebot a try. This bot is very closely related to the Light-tracking Bristlebot we built a few years back. Both of these bots can be built using the Advanced Bristlebot Kit from the Science Buddies Store, a fact that makes gathering the right specialty/electronics supplies really easy—just open the box!

My student decided to build this robot over spring break. We didn't need to do this hands-on science activity for school. We didn't need to formally track or test or measure. The focus was on the building, on the experience of plugging things into the breadboard appropriately. As a parent, this kind of casual at-home science and engineering moment is priceless.

Because our goal was on building, my role in the process was reading the directions out loud. He did all the assembly, all the breadboard hole-counting, tinkering, adjusting, taping, and customizing. That I had not been quite on top of things enough to have the right additional required elements gathered and on hand when the urge to build this bot struck meant I couldn't quite find the double-sided foam tape. He first improvised by making loops of clear tape to hold the small vibrating motors in place, but ultimately, he moved on to electrical tape. (We have lots of that!)

When the build was finished, we didn't have googly eyes, which some consider a "must" for their bots. But the impulse to customize his bot and give it added character was not lost. The head from a toy figurine made a perfect masthead for his bot, and, not shown here, a tiger figurine even got added at one point to ride on the bot!

As for the exploration of solar power... going outside to see if the motors would start spinning in the sun was exciting and rewarding.

This is a great and easy-to-follow project for at-home electronics and robotics fun!


Home Adventures in Robotics

For a look at some of our ther robotics-building experiences, and for related projects and activities that are fun for kids to do at home (with you or alone), see the following:

(Hint: The list above may be very helpful for summer activity planning!)

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Balloon-powered Vehicle Success


Hands-on engineering got a boost of balloon power with the fun 2015 Fluor® Engineering Challenge. Congratulations to everyone who joined the challenge and shared their creation!

2015 Fluor Engineering Challenge sample of entries for balloon-powered car challenge

More than 1,500 kids around the world gathered balloons, CDs, tape, straws, and pennies in February and March to take part in the first K-12 Fluor Engineering Challenge. Perfectly timed to offer an exciting hands-on engineering activity for Engineers Week, the Fluor Engineering Challenge presented an exciting puzzle for students. How can you use the least materials from the approved list to build a balloon-powered vehicle that will carry the most weight across the finish line of the test area?

With no sample (that used only the allowed materials) provided as a model for the Balloon-Powered Car Challenge project, kids were encouraged to design their own vehicles, put them to the test, and then redesign and retest, as needed, to get the best combination of materials and performance. This was a wonderful opportunity for students to put the Engineering Design Process in action!

It was exciting to see submissions coming in from students ranging in age from 4 to 18. Hundreds of images poured in to Science Buddies as the deadline for entries approached.

As the submissions arrived, the power of hands-on engineering activities for students was abundantly clear. There were all kinds of exciting, innovative, and creative balloon-powered vehicles designed, built, and tested by students in response to the challenge project. Presented with the challenge, the list of materials, the objective, and the guidelines for calculating a final score, students didn't follow a cookie-cutter approach to building their vehicles. The innovation, imagination, and engineering spirit demonstrated by those who took the 2015 Fluor Challenge was awesome!

The photos above show just a small sampling of the many, many student entries. As you can see, students had all kinds of creative ideas for how to accomplish the goal. Which designs do you think worked best? Why? Grab some materials and build your own to find out!

Congratulations to the team from Coppell Middle School East in Coppell, Texas, whose team entry won the random drawing for the 2015 Fluor Engineering Challenge and earned $1,500 USD from Flour for their school!


Fluor is a proud sponsor of Science Buddies.






Fluor is a registered service mark of Fluor Corporation. All rights reserved.

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Being able to translate ideas into 3D models that can be printed and used is an important skill for students with an interest in design and engineering. A recent robotics workshop gave students in New Jersey the opportunity to experiment with 3D design and then to see their models printed as real-life parts they could use in building their individual robots.

Autodesk Tinkercad robotics workshop
Above: Participants at a SoHa SMART workshop explored 3D design by designing their own custom bodies for their robots.



Students attending a recent two-part 3D design and robotics workshop at SoHa SMART in New Jersey learned something very important about robotics—making a robot doesn't have to be a cookie-cutter process. Robotics, in fact, isn't only about wires, sensors, and circuits. Design, creativity, and innovation are all important in robotics engineering. For students who love to design and build, the combination of 3D design and robotics offers an exciting blend of design and hands-on engineering.

With the goal of building custom robots using 3D printed parts they designed themselves, a small group of students, ages 12 to 15, gathered at SoHa SMART. During the first of two weekly sessions, the makers dove into the world of 3D design using Autodesk® Tinkercad®, a 3D computer aided design (CAD) and modeling program that makes it easy for students to take first steps in 3D design. The participants had a great time imagining what their robots might look like and then bringing their robot body ideas to life on the screen as 3D models.

Before the second week, the participants' designs were 3D printed so that they were ready to go when the students arrived for week 2.


Getting Hands-on with Robotics

With simple circuits and limited parts, Artbots and Bristlebots are excellent introductory robotics projects for students and may provide a stepping stone to more advanced robotics projects, like light-tracking, line-following, and solar-powered bots. An Artbot is often built using a common lightweight plastic cup for the body. This choice makes it easy to salvage a robot body from the kitchen (or local grocery store), and a plastic cup bot that shuffles about on toothbrush heads or marker legs can be fun to assemble and explore. With the use of 3D design software, kids can take things a step further and create a body that matches their own creative vision.

According to Ben Finio, staff scientist for Science Buddies and instructor for the SoHa SMART workshop, an Artbot-style robotics activity is a great way to also get kids started exploring 3D printing. A student's first 3D models may not come out quite as expected (which happened at this event), but an Artbot-style robot is very flexible in terms of assembly. As a "vibrobot," its primary function is simply to wobble around, powered by the vibrating motor.

"This type of robot is very forgiving in that it doesn't require any complex, interlocking mechanical parts (like gears) to move around," explains Ben. "This makes it a great project for an introduction to 3D printing--students can be creative and design the 'body' of their robot (which would typically be a craft item, like a plastic bottle or cup) in a CAD program like Tinkercad, without worrying about exact dimensions for various moving parts. Ultimately, their robot should 'work' no matter what they design, which helps ensure a positive experience for first-time CAD and 3D printing users."

Workshop participants were not given design plans or templates for their 3D models, says Ben. Instead, they were invited to design a robot exactly the way they wanted, with some basic parameters on sizing. With open terrain in front of them, the students rose to the challenge.

Their innovative designs for robot bodies included a person seated on a chair, a box with legs, a spider with a backpack, and a car. There wasn't a cup-like body in sight on week 2 when the students gathered with their newly printed 3D bodies and got to work wiring, soldering, and building their bots.

Autodesk Tinkercad workshop 3D printed robot body Autodesk Tinkercad workshop 3D printed robot body

Trying 3D Modeling with Tinkercad

Even with no prior experience using 3D design software, the kids were able to bring their creative ideas to life using Tinkercad. According to the students, working with Tinkercad was fun, and the process of using 3D design software to create their 3D models was easier than they expected. Dan Pfeiffer, who made a spider-shaped robot inspired by the popular Hexbug line of robots, said that he really enjoyed working with Tinkercad. "The most fun part was the designing part, because I love to build and design," says Dan, age 15.

Luca Caruso, age 12, ended up designing a robot that, well, looks like a robot. He says his design was inspired by other robots he has seen before, but what he liked most about working with Tinkercad was the freedom it offered. "I enjoyed the limitless ideas of what I could create," says Luca.

Not everyone's 3D printed part turned out exactly as they expected. Luca's for instance, ended up as multiple parts rather than a single part, and his opening for the motor wasn't quite the right size. Similarly, Connor Stine, age 15, was surprised that his 3D printed piece had extra material on the bottom that he hadn't realized was part of how his "person sitting on a chair" design would print.

The experience of seeing how their 3D models rendered in real life was a great real-world learning experience. If the final part doesn't look the way you expected, you get the opportunity to really see what happened and to return to the software, look at the 3D model, and figure out why it printed as it did and what you might have done differently.


3D Design: Just Do It

According to Ben, Tinkercad was a natural choice for the 3D design and robotics workshop. "Tinkercad is the most beginner-friendly CAD program for students who have no prior experience with CAD," explains Ben. "Its colorful, almost cartoonish interface doesn't 'look' like a CAD program, so it can be very inviting to young students," he continues, comparing Tinkercad to other professional-grade Autodesk CAD software programs like Inventor®. "A few quick tutorials can get students started creating their own parts within minutes," adds Ben, "making sure they are rewarded early on in the 3D design process and have a positive experience."

This approach proved successful for students at the SoHa SMART workshop. When asked what he would tell other students about learning to use 3D design software like Tinkercad, Dan put it on the line: "Dude, just do it. It's awesome and really, really, really easy to use!" When asked the same question, Connor replies, "If you use Tinkercad, it is easy!"

Amy King, parent of one of the participants, commented afterward on the experience of watching her son's enthusiasm for the workshop and his eagerness to learn and explore the technology. Amy notes that she looks for out-of-school opportunities like the 3D and robotics workshop as a way to supplement what is available, hands-on, in her son's school. When they signed up, she says her son Aidan, age 12, was especially interested in seeing a 3D printer in action. Amy, on the other hand, was excited for him to have the chance to explore CAD software with a guided activity. In the end, Amy was impressed by how quickly students like Aidan can pick up 3D design skills and start putting them to use in ways they can then hold in their hands as 3D printed parts.

"I was amazed at Aidan's ease of use with the CAD software. I was also impressed with his math skills while using the program. He really persisted to make his 'robot' design fit the size suggestions."


Taking It Further

Students looking to explore 3D design can get started with Tinkercad by working through tutorials available on the Autodesk Tinkercad site. After trying a simple project like an Art-bot style robot where shape and size doesn't have to be exact, Ben suggests students tackle something else "functional" as a next step in 3D design.
"As a next step, I'd encourage students to move on to a project where they need to consider the size and shape of what they are making," says Ben. "How about something that would be useful around the house, like a pencil holder for a desk, or a custom case/stand for a cell phone? Kitchen items like cups and bowls are also common 3D design projects, and even jewelry."

For additional robotics engineering projects and information, see the following posts and projects:

For additional information related to 3D design and printing, see the following posts and resources:


About Autodesk

Autodesk helps people imagine, design and create a better world. Everyone—from design professionals, engineers and architects to digital artists, students and hobbyists—uses Autodesk software to unlock their creativity and solve important challenges. For more information visit autodesk.com or follow @autodesk.

Autodesk is a registered trademarks or trademarks of Autodesk, Inc., and/or its subsidiaries and/or affiliates in the USA and/or other countries. All other brand names, product names or trademarks belong to their respective holders. Autodesk reserves the right to alter product and services offerings, and specifications and pricing at any time without notice, and is not responsible for typographical or graphical errors that may appear in this document.


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2015-blog-rubber-band.png

What happens when you heat up or cool down a bunch of molecules? Any exceptions? In this weekly mechanical engineering-themed family science activity, students experiment to find out how rubber bands respond to heating and cooling. Because rubber bands are made of polymer chains, the results may be surprising because a heated rubber band may do the opposite of what you expect! Get hands-on learning more about the physics of thermal expansion, polymers, and the surprising behavior of rubber bands as they respond to temperature in this family-friendly science exploration.

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What Shape is a Hard-boiled Egg?


Hard-boiling and dyeing eggs is a Spring tradition in many households. This year, give your hard-boiled eggs a twist and turn ordinary ovoid hard-boiled eggs into fun shapes! The trick to the transformation is understanding the science behind the process of hard-boiling.

Egg Mold Shapes Hard-boiled Family Science activity

Raw eggs are oval in shape. Hard-boiled eggs are made from raw eggs. Therefore hard-boiled eggs must be oval in shape, right? Your basic logic primer might suggest this syllogism is true, but a fun new science activity from Science Buddies lets families experiment with molding hard-boiled eggs into different shapes!

Once the hard-boiling process is done, many recipes for perfect hard-boiled eggs instruct you to immediately transfer the eggs to an ice bath. This can help stop the process so that the eggs stay beautifully yellow inside (rather than turning a more sickly green, a shade that also happens if you boil them too long).

As this new family science activity explains, if you remove the freshly hard-boiled (still very hot) egg from its shell and stuff it into a mold (like a box made from a milk carton), the egg will take on the new shape as it cools—and stay in that shape once you remove the cooled egg from the mold.

Egg Mold Shapes Hard-boiled Family Science activity

Sounds fun, right? Hard-boiled egg rockets (think cylinders and triangles), robots (stack those cubes), or whimsical animals (combine shapes) are just a scientific step away with this hands-on family friendly kitchen science activity.

You can find directions for this exploration here at Science Buddies in the Science Activities for All Ages! area or at Scientific American:

If you try this family science activity at home, we would love to see what shapes you make with hard-boiled eggs this year!


Plating (Or Boxing) and Presentation

In the food industry, it is often said that presentation makes a big difference in how people perceive the food they eat. The same meal presented (or "plated") two different ways can strike people very differently.

Egg Mold Shapes Hard-boiled Family Science activityEven at home, you can see the idea that "presentation" matters play out in the preparation of school lunches. If you or your kids have ever spotted someone at school with a Bento-box style lunch, you may have seen foods cleverly cut, styled, and arranged into fun shapes or characters that turn everyday lunch materials into something creative, artistic, or unexpected. (Unfamiliar with Bento lunches beyond the idea of a Bento "box" container? Check this collection of Bento box lunch images for an inspiring glimpse of what is possible.)

While we can't guarantee this science activity will singlehandedly help transform your lunch into cute pandas, Totoros, rabbits, or a Hello Kitty character, you can use molded hard-boiled eggs as a way to add more creativity and whimsy to your food presentation (or lunchbox packing)!

Students interested in the idea of food presentation may also be interested in the Perfect Plating: Which Food Presentation Technique is Best? * abbreviated project idea.


Fun with Eggs

For other experiments and family science activities that involve eggs (egg dyeing, egg boiling, egg launching), see this roundup: Family Egg Science. You (and your kids) won't want to miss the fun Ping Pong Catapult launching adaptation of the Bombs Away! project!



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Soda pop recipe / Hand-on STEM experiment

Making your own carbonated beverage can be a lot of fun. How much fizz do you like? What flavor? How sweet? The process of carbonating water and serving up a custom beverage is easier than ever before thanks to commonly available household devices like Sodastream®. But a pressurized approach to creating a carbonated beverage is not the only way to prepare a refreshing soda-style drink.


With a few simple ingredients, students can experiment with mixing up their own soda-style beverages at home using sodium bicarbonate and citric acid mixed with water. Experimenting with the quantity and ratio of these ingredients lets students observe the chemical reaction that occurs. Taste testing the beverage that results from different ratios of the ingredients makes the whole process even more fun. Mix in a sweetener or natural flavor (like lemon juice), and see if you can find the perfect balance of ingredients for your taste buds, not too fizzy, not too gritty, not too sweet. Can you find the "just right" combination? Does everyone in your house agree? Find out with this easy kitchen chemistry family science experiment.

You and your kids can explore this hands-on science activity using either the full project directions from Science Buddies or the shorter activity version:


For some non-edible fizzy science fun, try the Making Homemade Bath Bombs family science activity!

Note: The food coloring is just for fun. For the purists out there, no color is necessary!




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As winter turns to spring, farmers are preparing to plant this year's crops. For some, tilling their fields is a thing of the past.

No-till farming
Photo: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service


When you think of a farmer at work in the fields, do you picture a tractor pulling a plow and turning the soil? In my mind, it is a red tractor, and the soil is rich and dark.

For many people, turning the soil may be an obvious part of growing crops. Of course it is required! Isn't that what farmers do!?! It turns out that the answer to that question isn't easy. Yes, many farmers turn, or till, the soil. But increasing percentages of farmers are opting not to till some or all of their fields, for a variety of reasons.

As farmers prepare to plant new crops this spring, they must weigh the pros and cons of till and no-till farming. On the one hand, tilling a field in preparation for planting aerates and warms the soil, and also buries weeds, animal waste, and leftover crops. However, once the soil is turned, it is much more vulnerable to erosion from wind and water and is likely to have increased run-off of soil and chemicals into local waterways.

On the other hand, leaving a field untilled allows leftover crops to act as mulch and helps protect the soil from erosion and run-off. However, planting seeds through this layer of mulch is more difficult and requires expensive machinery. This method also may require more herbicide to control weeds, and, in some places, crop yields may be lower because the mulch keeps the soil cooler and seeds germinate later in the season.


Can you Dig It? Science and Farming

So what is a farmer to do? With no one right answer, farmers must experiment to learn what works best with their soil and the crops they choose to grow. Do you have an interest in the science behind farming? Try out these Science Buddies Project Ideas:

Getting Dirty in the Name of Science

Spring is a great time to talk with kids about plant life cycles. Dig in the dirt, plant a few seeds, or just head outside and observe how plant life is changing as the weather changes where you live.

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Mesmerizing video puts the physics of liquid in motion. Students and families can explore related science with hands-on activities that are fun to do at home or in the classroom.

Screenshot from NYT Tiny Internal Tornadoes Bring Drops to Life video
Image: screenshot from video that accompanies "Tiny Internal Tornadoes Bring Drops to Life," New York Times. (Click to view video and read the article.)

A recent article by James Gorman in the New York Times showcases fascinating research related to the behavior and movement of fluids. In the video (linked above), Gorman summarizes the physics behind the research of Dr. Manu Prakash.

The video shows numerous examples of colorful drops moving, chasing, and climbing, often in response to other drops. The movement of the droplets is mesmerizing to watch!

For students who are captivated by the moving droplets of colorful liquid, the following family-friendly science activities and science fair projects on surfactants and surface tension make for a great tie-in and opportunity to explore related science concepts with a fun, hands-on experiment:

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Guess What's Inside: Rock Science


Have you and your kids ever cracked open a geode to reveal the crystals inside? This is a great way to add something special to a prized rock collection and can be a lot of fun for kids who are interested in geology, rocks, or crystals. Learn more about how to predict what's inside a geode with a hands-on, family-friendly rock science project.

Geode inside
Above: The colorful inside of an amethyst geode. Source: Wikipedia.


A few years ago, my family visited Mammoth Cave in KY. After our awe-inspiring trek through some of the limestone-laden underground passages, we stopped at a nearby tourist shop. A giant bin of geodes in front of the store captured the attention of one of my students. From the outside, these geodes looked like regular, dirty, rough, spherical rocks. They didn't look special. But when it comes to a geode, it is the inside of the rock that counts!

At the souvenir shop, for an extra price, you can pay to have a store clerk use a wet saw to open the geode. (If you take a geode home unopened, you have to find your own way to the inside, possibly with a hammer.) The allure of immediate gratification won out over the fun of doing it himself later, and so my son spent a lot of time rummaging through what felt like thousands of possible geodes, each one begging to be "the one."

That there may be beautiful, colorful crystals inside is what makes the idea of a geode tantalizing for some students and collectors. Unfortunately, you can't tell for sure what is inside until you crack it open. Or can you?

Although the salesperson had helpful advice based on what she had observed about the relationship between a geode's exterior and weight and its interior, picking a geode that would reveal something amazing inside felt like a shot in the dark with a price tag to match.

My son's first pick was a bit of a disappointment once the inside was revealed. That, unfortunately, led to the expense of a second one, which didn't turn out much better.


External Clues

In reality, most of the geodes in that bin probably would have yielded very similar interiors. You might get luckier with one than another in terms of the development, size, quantity, or color of the crystals inside, but they were, really, all the same kind of rock. When presented with a range of types of geodes from which to pick, however, can you make an educated guess about the interior crystals based on visible and physical exterior clues and characteristics?

The Jumping for Geodes: Can You Tell the Inside from the Outside? geology science project guides students in a fun hands-on investigation to find out! Roll up your sleeves, get some volcanic or sedimentary rocks, and prepare to (maybe) be dazzled by the inside of a rock that looked perfectly ordinary from the outside.


Summary

Following the procedure in in the Jumping for Geodes geology project, students make careful observations about a number of different types of rocks and then open those rocks to see what kinds of geodes are inside. By charting physical characteristics and observations related to the outsides of various rocks and comparing their data to what they find inside the rocks, students can draw conclusions about what external clues may reveal about a rock's hidden geode.


Reminder: You can't just pick up any old rock, crack it open, and find treasure inside. Geodes are formed inside volcanic and sedimentary rocks. If you buy a geode "kit," make sure you look for one that contains more than one type of geode! Your students will have more fun (and learn more) comparing different kinds of geodes than just cracking over several of the same type.





Support for Geology resources and Project Ideas at Science Buddies is provided by Chevron.





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Talking Pi and Pie for Pi Day


Pi Day is a great excuse to make some math- and food-related Pi puns and bake up a tasty dessert. We suggest you throw a bit of science into the mix as well!

Pi Day photo / DennisWilkinson
Photo: Dennis Wilkinson, Flickr.

Tomorrow, March 14, 2014 is Pi Day, and we hate to let a Pi Day go by without an extra nod of the head to Pi, in all its varieties. Whether you celebrate Pi Day with a brief recitation of the digits of Pi you know, with a homemade or store-bought pie you can eat, or with pizza, we encourage you to add a bit of Pi science to your weekend.

See our Serving up Some Pi Pie for Pi Day post for great Pi-inspired ideas related to increasing your memorization skills. Or, check these posts for some yummy pie-making science project and family activity ideas:


Other Pi Day articles:


Pi of the Raspberry Variety

For the code-oriented Pi enthusiast, we leave you with a brief teaser: a Science Buddies Raspberry Pi Projects Kit is coming soon! Stay tuned for this exciting hands-on introduction to Raspberry Pi!


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Dropping the freezing point of water can help keep roads free of ice, making them safer for driving. What are the best tools for the job?

Salted street in the snow

In the eastern United States, this winter's Arctic temperatures and non-stop snowstorms have kept snowplow drivers on their toes. Snow and ice reduce friction between car tires and the road, making it slippery and more dangerous to drive, so snowplow drivers' hard work is essential. Even if people are advised to stay off the roads, emergencies like heart attacks and house fires don't pay any attention to the weather report, so emergency vehicles must be able to use the roads at all times.

Snowplows push snow off of the roads, but sometimes that is just one part of their job. They may also spray sand, salt, and chemical deicers onto the road. Sand can provide car tires with increased traction on slippery ice, while salt and chemical deicers can melt existing ice and snow or pretreat roads in advance of a storm. By spraying something onto the road that will lower the freezing temperature of water, slippery ice is less likely to form.


Finding a Better Ice-Buster

While salt is often used to help keep community roads and highways clear of ice, it isn't necessarily the best (or only) tool for the job. For example, the further the temperature is below freezing, the less effective salt becomes, until it loses its ability to melt ice at all. Dry rock salt can also be blown off of the road by wind and fast-moving vehicles, in which case it doesn't get a chance to do its job. These reasons, plus cost-effectiveness and environmental concerns, are some of the reasons why municipalities may spray roads with liquid chemical deicers, such as magnesium chloride. In our house, this process is known as "pinstriping" because of the white lines it leaves on the roads as it dries. These liquid deicers can't be blown away and also are effective at lower temperatures.

More creatively, some localities are using food processing by-products to pretreat their roads. In Wisconsin, a big cheese-making state, some municipalities fill those big snowplow spray tanks with cheese brine! It's a win-win, because the cheese producers would otherwise have to pay to have cheese brine hauled away as waste, and now this "waste product" is being put to good use. Several other states, such as Ohio, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania, have experimented with liquid by-products that come from processing sugar beets.


Snow Day!

Are you ready to play with the science of snow (and ice)? Take a look at these K-12 science experiments:

Wind chill factor...fog...is weather one of your favorite topics? Take a look at Science Buddies' Weather and Atmosphere Project Ideas for more hands-on fun!

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Sliding and Friction: Weekly Science Activity



In this week's spotlight: a fun physics activity that turns exploring the relationship between friction and sliding into a cool hands-on exercise. With a rubber band and a stack of coins, families can slingshot the coins on various surfaces to see how the surface affects how the coins slide. This science activity may feel like a game, but there is great science to be observed, so grab a rubber band, make a finger-based slingshot, and let the coins slide!


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Great Ideas for Engineers Week


Eweek Fluor Challenge balloon car Eweek suspension-bridge Eweek surface tension raft Eweek paperdolls
Eweek brushbot Eweek hovercraft Eweek kite Eweek line following robot
Eweek infinity mirror project Eweek slope project Eweek aluminum boats Eweek Flippy dancing robot
Eweek submarine Eweek squishy circuits Eweek geodesic dome Eweek calculator crash test



Put engineering in the spotlight and celebrate Engineers Week (Feb 22-28) with great hands-on projects and activities like these for K-12 students:


Take the Fluor Engineering Challenge!

All of the projects and activities highlighted above can be fun and educational choices for hands-on engineering this #eweek. But students who build and test a balloon-powered car as part of the 2015 Fluor Engineering Challenge (#fluorchallenge) will be entered in a random drawing to win money for their school! See Blaze Your Own Trail with a Balloon-powered Vehicle for more information.

For complete guidelines and details about the 2015 Fluor Engineering Challenge, visit: http://www.sciencebuddies.org/fluor-challenge.


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Shoo, Flu!: Vaccine Science


Surrounded by coughing friends and drippy-nosed siblings? What are your chances of getting the flu this year? Discover how your immune system and the flu vaccine work together to keep you healthy.

Flu virus representation/ CDC / Douglas E. Jordan
Image: CDC/ Douglas E. Jordan

Sniffle, sneeze, cough, sigh. The annual bout of flu has already run through our house. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), anywhere from 5 to 20% of the US population gets it each year. Chills, fever, and a sore throat were no fun at all in our house, but for me, at least, it was a good excuse to lie in bed and read all day.

We had our flu shots, so why did we get the flu? Partially, we may have gotten the flu because the flu vaccine doesn't protect against all strains of the flu virus. Scientists have to make their best guess at which three (or four, depending on which vaccine you get) to include in the vaccine each year, and this year their predictions weren't as accurate as they have been in other years. Nonetheless, getting vaccinated each year can help you avoid a lengthy and unpleasant illness during flu season. Doctors especially recommend flu shots for very young children, older people, and others whose immune systems may not be strong enough to fight off the flu.


Vaccinations and Your Mighty Immune System

Your immune system is a group of organs and cells in your body that fights off germs to keep you healthy. Flu vaccines introduce a safe amount of selected flu viruses (or just key virus proteins) into your body so your immune system can learn how to fight against them. Then, if you are exposed to the same flu viruses during flu season, your immune system remembers them and can fight them off more easily. Vaccines for other illnesses work the same way.

How can your body remember viruses? Great question! To explore vaccines and this amazing aspect of our bodies further, take a look at these student science project ideas:

  • Fighting the Flu: How Your Immune System Uses Its Memory: In this project, students create a simple immune system model to help them visualize how the body remembers and fights off illnesses. Teachers, there is also a classroom version of this hands-on activity.
  • Spread the Soap, Not the Germs: Don't forget that hand washing is an excellent defense against catching and spreading illnesses! With this project, discover what it takes to really tackle germs with soap and water
  • BLASTing Flu Viruses: Ready for a more advanced immunology project? Use online tools to study the effectiveness of actual flu vaccines from prior years.


The Wide World of Medical Science

Pathogens, medicines, and the ways our bodies interact with them make for some amazing science! Students interested in medical research and biotechnology may also want to take a look at these science project ideas and special resource pages:


Making Connections

Students interested in exploring science related to Ebola or measles can also get started by exploring the kinds of projects listed above. See also the Ebola: Understanding the Science of Viral Outbreaks special collection at Science Buddies.


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How much weight can a balloon-powered vehicle carry? Find out with this year's 2015 Fluor® Engineering Challenge. Check the challenge guidelines, design and build your own vehicle, and enter for a chance to win money for your school from Fluor!

2015 Fluor Engineering Challenge #FluorChallenge / Balloon-powered vehicle

Turning a pile of parts into something functional is half the fun and a big part of the appeal of engineering for a lot of students. If you have ever done a science challenge where your team was handed a few sheets of paper or a handful of dried pasta and told you that you had 15 minutes to make a bridge, then you know that being challenged to think creatively about the goal at hand and how to work within the limitations of a specific set of materials and guidelines can be a lot of fun!

This year's 2015 Fluor Engineering Challenge offers the same kind of hands-on fun and excitement for K-12 students. The goal is for students, working along or in small teams, to design and build a balloon-powered car that can carry a load of pennies across the finish line (or into the target zone) of a homemade test arena. How much weight the car can successfully carry is part of the challenge. What materials you use from the approved list to build your vehicle is another part of the challenge. If you come up with a working design that uses fewer materials, you may increase your final score.

So how can you turn a few CDs, balloons, jumbo straws, pencils, paper clips, and tape into a weight-bearing car that will successfully roll down the path and across the finish line? You will need to think creatively about the challenge, brainstorm ideas for how your vehicle might be assembled, and then put it to the test. If it doesn't work, you may need to go back and rethink certain aspects of your design and try again. If your vehicle carries one penny, blow up your balloon(s) and run it again with two. How much weight can it carry? Are there any design modifications you can make that will make a difference? Does your vehicle need everything you used to build it?

With the 2015 Fluor Engineering Challenge, students will put the Engineering Design Process in motion.

We can't wait to see how your balloon-powered vehicle turns out! Plus, if you submit your results, you will be entered in the random drawing for a chance to win $1,500 USD for your school!

The official window for entries is February 22-March 15, so start gathering your materials and get ready for this year's Engineers Week and the 2015 Fluor Engineering Challenge.


Fluor is a proud sponsor of Science Buddies.



Fluor is a registered service mark of Fluor Corporation. All rights reserved.




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Drop candy hearts in soda to see what happens / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a fun chemistry activity for Valentine's Day. If you have conversation hearts candies on hand this Valentine's Day, put a few aside for a fun family science experiment. What happens when you drop one of the candies into a glass of soda? Why? This hands-on science activity makes a great science conversation starter with kids.



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Ocean Currents: Weekly Science Activity



In this week's spotlight: an ocean sciences activity that helps families better visualize how ocean currents move. What does temperature have to do with the speed and direction of ocean currents? Make your own mini ocean model and find out!



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Explore Nanotechnology with Paper  / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a materials science activity that gives families a hands-on look at nanotechnology. Materials coming out of nanotechnology research are often lighter and stronger than traditional materials. Nanotechnology scientists are working with matter at the nanoscale, which means they are working with individual atoms and molecules. By altering the structure and arrangement of particles, scientists are creating and discovering new materials that have exciting new qualities—some of these materials might even make you think of favorite science fiction or comic book characters! In this hands-on activity, students use paper to help model and visualize how different arrangements of the same matter can make a dramatic difference in the strength of the material made from that matter.


For both the science project and the shorter family-friendly science activity, students use everyday paper to represent carbon nanostructures used in nanotechnology. How does strength change when you stack, roll, fold, or otherwise manipulate the paper? Put it to the test for a better understanding of what it means for scientists to rearrange the structure of matter at the nanoscale!


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In the days leading up to the big game, in the days after, or even during off-season, you can kick around sports science concepts with your student sports fans. Behind every great sporting event is a lot of science that kids can explore!

Football sports science in time for Super Bowl Sunday / Try the Ping Pong Catapult science kit

This weekend, the New England Patriots will pair off against the Seattle Seahawks in Glendale, AZ, for Super Bowl XLIX.

Whether you are planning to tailgate or planning to watch the big game from home, you may already have your snack menu lined up for this weekend's Super Bowl, and you may have already started watching teasers and pre-releases of the television commercials that will air during the game.

As you wait for the seconds to tick down to kickoff, you and your kids can toss around some sports science in casual conversation that adds some science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) meat to the football frenzy. Or you can spark an impromptu hands-on sports science project just in time for Super Bowl Sunday.

The Sports Science area at Science Buddies contains a number of football-centered projects for K-12 students. Here are a few experiments to get your Super Bowl week science talks started:

Making a Game of Sports Science

The Ping Pong catapult won't help you perfect your on-field spiral, but you can set it up to do a fun football kicking project. Or, grab an assortment of soft sports-themed mini balls or ping pong balls, mix up your themes, and explore the science of a medieval catapult. See either Bombs Away! A Ping Pong Catapult or Under Siege! Use a Catapult to Storm Castle Walls for basic guidelines on experimenting with the Ping Pong Catapult. (Check this post for a family's experience with plastic Easter eggs and the catapult to get inspired about what fun you and your kids might have with some mini sports balls and the tool from the Science Buddies Store.)

You can make a pretty fun game out of launching small balls through the house and at a target. Got a small indoor basketball goal? Move it from a doorway to somewhere lower and see if you can successfully aim small balls through the hoop to score. As you increase your distance, what changes do you have to make to your catapult setup?

With some creative thinking, you can turn this science tool into a fun and challenging game or science-minded activity. Better brush up on your trajectory know-how if you want to score big!


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Bristlebots at the Museum


Participants at a museum sleepover event in Utah may have packed a toothbrush for the night, but likely came home with an extra—a toothbrush robot they built and decorated themselves!

Bristlebots activity during a sleepover at the Natural History Museum of Utah
Guests at an NHMU sleepover event had a great time making, decorating, and testing Bristlebot robots.

Despite the craziness that the main character encounters in the Night at the Museum movie (and its sequels), a sleepover at a local natural history museum can be a safe, exciting, and educational opportunity for families, one loaded with creative hands-on science and engineering activities and projects. At a recent Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU) Family Sleepover, 43 kids and 32 adults spent the night at the museum. As part of the night's activities, participants got to explore robotics by building bristlebots and brushbots.


As you can see from the photos NHMU shared with Science Buddies (above), the kids, ages 5-14, got super creative with their robot building! In addition to assorted supplies to personalize and decorate the robots, various kinds of toothbrush heads were available for the kids to explore. "The variety of brush types was great for kids to investigate with," says Shelli Campbell, Youth and Family Coordinator for the Museum.

According to Shelli, the robot building activity was a huge hit at the sleepover event. "Everyone loved the bristlebots," she reported after the event.

There were plenty of bristlebot-building experts on hand to help with the robotics activity, so printed directions were not needed at the sleepover, but Shelli reviewed the Science Buddies directions during her preparation for the event as she built and tested her own bots. "I do like your photos as they make it much easier to understand the step by step process," notes Shelli. "Pictures really are worth a thousand words!"

Given the wide age range of overnight attendees, Shelli notes that toothbrush heads can be a bit difficult to work with for the youngest of builders. "The surface of the toothbrush is just sometimes too small for the 5-6 year olds," says Shelli. "They get frustrated easily, and so we found we can only do this project/activity with this age range when we have parents to assist."

Bigger brush heads can make a difference, and for their next sleepover event, Shelli plans to experiment with the size of the brush heads, possibly using something in between toothbrush and scrub brush heads to make this introductory robotics activity even easier for the smallest of hands. She is already thinking ahead and planning to add other exciting options to the activity, too. "We'll also try some 'battle bots' using a small hula hoop as the 'ring,' as well as race tracks made out of cut PVC pipes," says Shelli.

The biggest problem Shelli says she has encountered doing bristlebots with kids—they all want to take them home!


Build Your Own

To build your own bristlebots or brushbots with your students or a group of students, see the following guided activities from the Science Activities for All Ages! area:

Looking to take your Bristlebot building to the next level? Take a look at the Advanced Bristlebot kit and the light-tracking or solar powered bots you can make with it!


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Explore how sorbents help with environmental cleanup after an oil spill / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a environmental engineering activity that encourages families to learn more about sorbents. A sorbent is a material used to absorb a liquid. In the case of an oil spill, cleaning up effectively and quickly is very important. But cleaning up oil from a waterway (and off of wildlife that come into contact with the spill) can be difficult. In this family science activity (or science fair project), students experiment with different sorbents to see which ones are most effective at cleaning up oil that has spilled in water.



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Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog


Did you miss something? Check these highlights and favorite posts from last year on the Science Buddies Blog for great science project overviews, visual spreads that show hands-on science in action, student success stories, and real-world STEM connections to inspire and engage students, teachers, and families with science, technology, engineering, and math.

Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog / LEGO Movie and Engineering is Awesome Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog / Brushbot Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog /  Boba spherification Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog / veggie power squash Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog / tie-dye eggs success story Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog / raspberry pi star Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog / gaming playing and gender Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog / gumdrop geodesic dome Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog / calculator crash test Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog / superbugs dice Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog / gaming city design Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog / Juno Cassini Success Story Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog / paper-dolls engineering Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog / magic train maglev Last Year on the Science Buddies Blog /  Ping Pong catapult eggs

As a writer at Science Buddies, I really enjoy at the end of the year (or the start of the new year) looking back at the wide range of projects, activities, and science news connections I had the chance to experiment with and write about in the span of a year. As a writer and a parent, I greatly enjoy helping to highlight connections between the real world and the STEM projects that students might do as part of a science fair, for a class assignment, or just for fun on the weekends. I also very much enjoy the process of testing some of our science kits and science project procedures hands-on with my own students at home.

Here are a few of my favorite posts, especially the ones that really let you see the excitement hands-on science can encourage, from 2014:

I know exciting new projects and science kits are coming in 2015 from Science Buddies, and I can't wait to see what I get to try out and write about this calendar year as part of our mission to help encourage and support K-12 hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

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Explore math and volume using play dough / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a math activity that turns playing with dough into an exploration of geometry. If you make a cube out of dough, you can measure the sides of the 3D object and multiple the length by width by height to find out the volume of the shape. If you gently and uniformly flatten (or squish) the object, you transform your original shape into a new shape with new dimensions. Does the volume change? In this family-friendly math activity, kids can have geometry fun with either store-bought or homemade dough. Make some shapes, take some measurements, transform the shapes into new ones, measure again, and then spend time talking about what happens to the dimensions—and to the volume—of the shapes that are all made from the same starting piece of dough!



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In movies like Dolphin Tale, you don't have to look far to find the engineering design process in action. With the steps of the engineering process being acted out as the story unfolds, students see that success often involves a great deal of trial, error, testing, and redesigning. With a dolphin's well-being at stake, succeeding is something audiences cheer about—and succeeding involves science, innovation, technology, and persistence!

Dolphin Tale movie puts a spotlight on the engineering design process /screenshot from trailer
Dolphin Tale puts a spotlight on the engineering design process as a tail is designed and tested to help Winter, the dolphin. Watch the movie trailer.

We sometimes lag behind when it comes to catching big screen releases, so we first watched Dolphin Tale (2011) last summer as a rental. The movie, based on a true story, is a great and heartwarming tale about a couple of kids, a rescued dolphin named Winter, and the efforts of a marine biology center in Florida. After Winter's tail has to be amputated, the bottlenose dolphin adapts and learns to swim with a different side-to-side motion. Winter gets around, but doctors at the marine hospital determine her makeshift movements are causing long-term spinal damage.

When 11-year old Sawyer, who was there when Winter was first rescued, faces a family member who has returned from military service with an amputation and meets a doctor that works at the veteran's hospital, he realizes that a prosthetic tail might be just what Winter needs.

He convinces Dr. Cameron McCarthy, played by Morgan Freeman, to help design something specifically for Winter. "Trying to put a tail on a fish. Nobody in his right mind would even try," says Dr. McCarthy. But Winter's plight wins him over, and he goes through a number of trials and iterations of design and engineering in working to develop a custom prosthesis for Winter. The first versions don't succeed, but Dr. McCarthy, Sawyer, and the marine center staff, do not give up. Learning from each failed attempt, Dr. McCarthy continues to refine the tail.

There are many variables involved, including the design and shape, the material from which the tail is made, the weight of the prosthesis, the way in which the tail attaches to Winter, and more. Pinpointing areas for change and improvement, making a new prototype, and trying again are all part of the engineering design process Dr. McCarthy goes through.

For students watching Dolphin Tale, the engineering design process is on display in a way students can immediately see and understand. While Dr. McCarthy waits for materials, he makes a first prototype that Winter rejects. Had he stopped there, what would have happened to Winter? Luckily, he doesn't stop. He continues to work on the design until he develops the first in a series of prosthetic devices to help Winter.


Engineering a Sequel

In Dolphin Tale 2, released this year, there is a new plot line, but Winter's tail is still central to the story. Federal law requires that dolphins are kept with a companion. When Winter's companion dies, the marine center faces the fact that Winter may have to be relocated. The unexpected rescue of Hope, a younger dolphin, looks like it may offer a solution, but only if Hope and Winter become friends. Matching up two dolphins for companionship sounds easier than it proves to be!

When the marine center staff first introduce Winter and Hope, the meeting goes badly. Watching replays of the meeting, doctors and scientists theorize that Hope detected Winter's missing tail and that this made Winter seem too "different" to the younger dolphin. Still hoping for the two dolphins to become companions, Dr. McCarthy designs a new and even more realistic version of Winter's tail.

Together, the two movies offer a family-friendly and accessible look into the engineering design process and biomedical engineering. There is a great deal of science and engineering for families (or classes) to talk about in these movies. Students can also get inspired by the science they see and turn their interest into a hands-on science experiment.


Student Science and Prosthetics Design

Students can experiment with the brainstorming, design, prototyping, and testing that goes into prosthetics (and other biomedical or robotics engineering) design with projects like these:


3D Printing and Prosthetics

3D printing is revolutionizing the way we think about product manufacturing. While we often hear about 3D printing for small-scale items like phone cases, accessories, or parts to replace something that has broken, 3D printing is being used to create all kinds of products, including custom human prosthetics. In October, the Washington Post ran a piece on a cool "Iron Man"-styled prosthetic hand for children. In the video demonstration, the creator talks about the goals that helped guide the design of the hand.

Students can begin to explore 3D printing and design with free Autodesk design software. Projects to help kids get started are available on the Digital STEAM Workshop site. Students working on science projects can also use Autodesk software to take their projects to the next level. A great first step with 3D design is to use Autodesk software to expand Science Buddies' beginner-level Artbot project into a customized 3D robotics engineering exploration. The Design and 3D-Print Your Own Robot! * project helps students think through what may be involved and how to use 3D design as a fulcrum for an independent robotics engineering exploration.

For more information about using Autodesk software, and for other suggestions about projects that can be integrated with Autodesk, see Level Up Your Science Fair Project: Design in 3D with Free Autodesk Software.



For related stories of animal-related prosthetics engineering, 3D design, and innovation, see:


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In this week's spotlight: a food science activity for the New Year. Eating black-eyed peas is a New Year's Day tradition in some places, and soaking the peas in water is the first step. Whether you are making black-eyed peas or a soup or stew that uses dried beans, a bit of kitchen science may help speed up the process of rehydrating dried beans (or legumes). What difference does the temperature of the water used to soak the beans make in terms of how long the beans need to soak? Does the same thing happen with all types of dried beans? Put black-eyed peas, split peas, lentils, or other legumes to the test and see what difference temperature makes on your way to preparing a homemade soup to welcome in the New Year and warm up a winter day.



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Pastry Science: Weekly Science Activity



In this week's spotlight: a food science activity that may fit right in with any baking you have planned for the season. Are pies on your family's list of favorites or traditions this time of year? How do you like your crust? Does your mouth water for a flaky crust on a homemade pie? In this kitchen science experiment, families can explore the role of fats—and the temperature of the fat—on the texture of a pie crust. When you get ready to mix up a crust, do you take the fat straight from the refrigerator? Or do you set it out ahead of time to warm up to room temperature first? Or do you melt it? What difference will the temperature make on how flaky the crust is? Once you know the science behind the crust, you may never approach pie crust making the same again!



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With drag-and-drop computer programming, kids can explore fun activities that add lights and sounds to the season. We got in the holiday spirit with Scratch and Raspberry Pi to light up a simple light-activated star!

We got in the holiday spirit with Scratch and Raspberry Pi to light up a simple light-activated star!

Whether your winter break features hot chocolate and snowball fights or not, the extended school break often includes a lot of time cooped up indoors. With or without any seasonal festivities, there may be a good bit of downtime to fill. With some creative thinking and clever challenges, it can be easy to keep students engaged and occupied. Sure, winter break is a "break" from school, but that doesn't mean it can't involve some hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) just for the fun of it.

Playing around with Scratch, a video game design environment like Gamestar mechanic, an Hour of Code tutorial, a robotics project (for beginners or more experienced builders),a 3D design exploration, or a project that uses Raspberry Pi are all great ways to challenge and inspire kids while school is out. (We have pooled other great "winter break" project ideas here, too!)

In the spirit of the season, we encourage you and your students to find ways to light up this year's winter break with creative science and engineering projects. We would love to see what you build, create, design, or make!


Coded Lights

On Google's Made with Code site, students can experiment with Blockly, a Scratch-like, drag-and-drop code system, to customize the lighting of digital Christmas trees that are being linked to real-world trees. The fun beginner-level activity encourages kids to give computer programming a try, and the guided activity makes it super easy to set up the block-level programming and customize the colors, quantities, and timing of the lights. After setting up the simple tree-lighting code, coders can move on and try another winter-themed activity, like configuring a kaleidoscopic snowflake.


A Bright New Year

Science Buddies will be debuting an exciting new Raspberry Pi kit and a set of guided Raspberry Pi activities in 2015 for students interested in computer science. In preparation for the release of the new activities, many Science Buddies staff (and our kids) are involved in testing, trying, and learning about Raspberry Pi and Scratch.

Using the basics from one of the activities in development, we hooked up our own lighted, light-activated star for the season. When the lights go off (or you cover up the sensor), the star lights up! It was a simple way to experiment with controlling a real-world sensor with our Scratch program on Raspberry Pi, but we learned a lot in the process!

We look forward to sharing the new kit and projects with you in the New Year and seeing what you will develop, code, create, and invent!


Branch Out on Your Own Over Break

For more information, links, inspiration, and DIY programming ideas, see these posts:



Support for the development of the new Raspberry Pi activities is provided, in part, by Symantec Corporation


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You Can Do That with Yogurt?


Grow bacteria colonies, create yogurt ravioli, even make your own top-secret recipe for delicious homemade yogurt. Head into the kitchen for some tasty food science fun!

Yogurt ravioli
With the Spherification kit from the Science Buddies Store, students can turn yogurt into self-contained yogurt ravioli. Experiment with the variables involved, or just make some to eat for a fun kitchen chemistry treat!

Step into my kitchen on a hot summer afternoon, and you are likely to hear the roar of the food processor. Plain yogurt and frozen fruit are all we need to create a delicious, cooling treat so thick and creamy that a spoon will stand up in it! The kids love the taste, and I love the fact that this healthy snack provides so many good nutrients.


Bacteria That Are Good for You

Do you know how liquid milk turns into something you can eat with a spoon? Bacteria are the culprits. They consume milk's lactose (milk sugars) and produce lactic acid. This process is called bacterial fermentation.

Perhaps it doesn't sound very appetizing to eat something made from bacteria. After all, grown-ups are always telling kids to wash their hands to get rid of bacteria, right? But some bacteria, known as probiotics, are helpful to humans, and that's exactly the type of bacteria in your yogurt. So, grab a spoon and enjoy!


Playing with Your Food

Yogurt is not only delicious and good for you, but also thick with opportunities for fun kitchen science. Check out these microbiology and food science projects for a yogurt-themed science exploration at home:

  • Abracadabra! Transforming Yogurt into "Ravioli": Explore the technique of reverse spherification and magically turn yogurt into little sealed ravioli-like pouches that you can eat with your fingers! The process of making your own ravioli is easy. (Using a kit from the Science Buddies Store, you can also make your own juice balls!)
  • Yogurt Cultures: Why buy yogurt at the store when you can make your own? Experiment with different types of (safe and healthy!) bacteria to see how it changes the type of yogurt you create.
  • The Art and Science of Making Yummy Yogurt*: Besides bacteria, what other variables can affect your homemade yogurt? Play with cooking temperature, cooking time, or another step in the process or recipe. How can you make the most delicious yogurt?
  • Is That Really Bacteria Living in My Yogurt?: "Live cultures" is a claim you see on lots of yogurt packaging. But how can you know that living, healthy bacteria are really in that plastic cup? Using a variety of yogurts, see what happens when you attempt to grow your own bacteria!

So now the cat is out of the bag—bacteria are the secret to making great yogurt. Yes, it sounds a little weird, but sometimes weird is good!

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Hands-on medical biotechnology projects guide students in scientifically evaluating how common moisturizer ingredients work.

Lotions and moisturizers biotechnology science project


As winter weather starts creeping in, you may find yourself reaching for a grab bag of lotions and moisturizers to deal with dry and chapped hands, skin, or lips.

Store shelves are often loaded with products that claim to be the best, the most moisturizing, or the most long-acting, but all lotions are not equal when it comes to how well they moisturize human skin and how well they help lock in and preserve important oils and water. How do you know which product will really work for you?

If you base your buying decision on the product packaging that most catches your eye, on clever writing and buzzwords that may appear on the product packaging or in ads, or even on price, you may find yourself with a bottle of lotion or a tube of moisturizer for your lips that really doesn't work the way you expect.

So how should you choose? Not surprisingly, the answer lies, partly, in the list of ingredients. Just as when you head to the grocery store to buy food and read and compare nutritional info and ingredients labels, you can make a more educated decision about your moisturizer by learning more about certain key ingredients commonly found in moisturizers and how they behave when used on your skin.


Simulating Skin in a Petri Dish

In the The Skinny on Moisturizers: Which Works Best to Keep Skin Moist? medical biotechnology project, students investigate the correlation between the ingredients in various moisturizers and the effectiveness of the moisturizer. If you ask twenty people to all rub a lotion on their hands and tell you how it feels or how well it works, you may get a broad range of opinions and subjective comments. What this project helps students do is scientifically assess how well a product works. In this biotechnology project, students simulate skin (using gelatin) and then test different lotions to see what happens to the gelatin (skin) over a period of time. Specifically, students investigate the use of products containing mineral oil, glycerin, petroleum jelly, and triethanolamine to see how they affect the dryness of skin. (See the project directions for details regarding how to find appropriate moisturizers for testing.)

Doing this project, students use and practice important lab techniques, including careful record keeping and observation of petri dishes of simulated skin to which moisturizers with different ingredients have been applied. The intermediate-level project may take several weeks to complete, but at the end of the experiment, students are able to draw conclusions, based on data they have collected, about the effects of certain ingredients in moisturizers.

What moisturizers should you buy if you really want to moisturize your skin or help alleviate dryness? Have a student put it to the test. You might be surprised to find out how your favorite moisturizer performs! After doing this project, students will also be able to better evaluate a product by looking at the ingredients list on the label!


Science Buddies' Project Ideas in Medical Biotechnology are sponsored by the Amgen Foundation.

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Seeing Science: Weekly Science Activity



In this week's spotlight: a human behavior-themed science activity that puts families to a fun brain-twister test. How quickly can you say the name of the color in which a word is printed? Does your speed (or accuracy) change if the color of the word and the word itself don't match? This science activity makes for an engaging exploration of the Stroop effect. After learning more about (and trying) the classic Stroop activity, you can expand the fun with other puzzle- or test-oriented projects that involve similar human behavior and perception processes.

For additional student science projects related to Stroop effect or similar perceptual behavior, see:




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Ebola Fighters Receive TIME Recognition


Ebola fighters TIME Person of the year covers from Twitter post
TIME tweeted the announcement with a snapshot of all the cover photos.

Today, TIME announced this year's Person of the Year—the Ebola Fighters. This general "grouping" of people is represented with cover photos paying tribute to five people who have played a notable humanitarian role in the Ebloa epidemic. Each person has a different story and a different experience with Ebola. Taken together, the group is an inspiring set of people making a global impact in the midst of what remains an unsolved and frightening health care epidemic.

To read more about TIME's selection, see the following articles:


Making Real-world Connections

Students can learn more about the science being used and researched as the Ebola crisis continues by exploring a related science project. For relevant project recommendations in areas of microbiology, biomedical technology, genomics, human biology, and even mammalian biology, see the Ebola: Understanding the Science of Viral Outbreaks special interest collection at Science Buddies.

For additional information and context in which to discuss and explore student science angles related to the global healthcare crisis, see Ebola Outbreak Reaches Epidemic Proportions in West Africa on the Science Buddies Blog.

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A science project, especially an advanced one, may have a longer shelf life than just a single fair or a linear competition circuit. Top science students may find many events and venues in which to enter and showcase their research and findings. Science Buddies' Advanced Project Guide helps students follow a roadmap to advanced project success.

Advanced Science Competition for students

Many students come to Science Buddies looking for an entry-level (or grade-level) science exploration to meet the requirements of a school science fair or class assignment. Science Buddies has hundreds of scientist-authored beginner and intermediate projects in more than 30 areas of science to match up to student interest and experience. But Science Buddies also has a wide range of advanced science projects, as well as abbreviated project ideas, designed to engage and challenge advanced science students.

From simulating the biochemistry and biomedical engineering required for a smart insulin pump to exploring the efficiency of a cobalt-based catalyst at helping to form molecular oxygen, building an X-ray machine, setting up a cloud chamber to study radioactivity, or modeling ocean acidification, students looking for a more complex or long-term science investigation will find plenty of advanced project ideas at Science Buddies. Beyond the school fair or a specific class assignment, some students choose an advanced project and end up on an exciting path to advanced science competition. Other students approach science fair each year specifically with advanced competition in mind and seek out a long-term project that they hope to demonstrate at higher levels of science competition.


No matter which path a student takes, the end result may be a ticket to advance to a fair like Intel's International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), which invites students who win at local and state ISEF-affiliated science fairs. Other major science events that advanced students can target include the Intel Science Talent Search; the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology; and the Google Science Fair. Students can learn more about these and other top science competitions in the Advanced Project Guide.

In addition to competitions that have a long history in science education, students should always look around and see what other competitions (or scholarships) may be available for which their project might qualify. Advanced science fair projects require a lot of work and often involve months and months of experimentation and data collection. Turning a single project into an entry for a number of events makes the most of the hard work!


Turning Science Ideas into Reality

In some cases, a special event like MIT's THINK Scholars Program (THINK) may provide the impetus for a science project that can then be leveraged into other competitions. THINK is an MIT outreach program that invites high school student project proposals in any area of science. Winning proposals receive a budge, a scholarship, mentorship, and a trip to MIT to help bring their project into reality.

To learn more about THINK, visit: think.mit.edu. Submissions for this year's competition are due January 1, 2015.


Student Success Stories

Get inspired with these stories of advanced science students:

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Singing Science: Weekly Science Activity



In this week's spotlight: a music-themed science activity that guides families in an exploration of vocal ranges. What determines how high or how low you can sing? What does the length of your vocal chords have to do with your vocal range? Does age or gender have anything to do with the highest note you can hit? Put these questions to a singing test with a science experiment.


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Squash Power


Veggie Power with squash / Electronics activity and science experiment kit

The Veggie Power science kit at Science Buddies is popularly used to explore the way simple potatoes can be used to generate a small amount of power and light up an LED light or activate a little buzzer. But potatoes are not the only veggies that can be used in a circuit!

With the plethora of pumpkins, gourds, and squash varieties in the produce section at the grocery, there are a number of vegetables kids might test as they explore alternative energy, electronics, and the basics of setting up a circuit. How do your favorite veggies compare when it comes to generating power? What about fruits?

We put a pair of butternut squash to the test recently using the Veggie Power kit from the Science Buddies Store and the how-to directions in the Potato Batteries: How to Turn Produce into Veggie Power! project. This is a simple electronics experiment for kids to set up, and the results are fast, fun, and easy to see!


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Globs of Gluten: Weekly Science Activity


Explore the science of gluten in baking / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a food-themed science activity that helps families explore the role of gluten in baking—and the different levels of gluten content in different types of flour. Many favorite holiday foods contain gluten, from stuffing and rolls to pies and pastries. But their different textures may have something to do with gluten. Extracting gluten from wheat flour can be sticky business, but in this science activity, families can get hands-on with their own gluten balls and compare the amount of gluten in different kinds of wheat flour.


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A Bus Powered by Human Waste


A bus that runs on a gas powered by human waste goes for a test run in England. Students can explore alternative and renewable energy sources and processes with biofuel and microbial fuel science projects.

Bio-Bus in England
Learn more about the Bio-Bus from the Bath Bus Company.

Did you catch wind of the new Bio-Bus (dubbed the "poo bus") that hit the roads this week in England for a 4-week trial? The bus, operated by the Bath Bus Company, is powered by bio-gas.

An experiment in putting alternative energy on the roads, the Bio-Bus uses gas generated by the breakdown of human waste, something the company is putting front and center for passengers with the illustration on the outside of the bus!

According to a writeup in The Guardian, one tank of gas will carry the bus more than 150 miles and "takes the annual waste of around five people to produce."

Students can learn more about biofuel and other alternative energy sources with hands-on K-12 science projects like these:

For more real-world biofuel, microbial fuel, and alternative fuel inspiration, see:

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A lighthearted how-to guide puts students on a yellow brick road to setting up a website using basic HTML and CSS or a content system like WordPress.


Learn the Basics of Web Publishing by Following the Comic Adventures of Kim

Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS, and WordPress helps teach new web coders the basics of HTML, CSS, and WordPress by following the story of Kim and her little dog Tofu as Kim creates her first website.


Computer Science Projects for Fun or School

Students interested in computer programming may enjoy the following science projects. Many of these projects use JavaScript, a scripting language that can be used with HTML pages:

For more about computer science and K-12 STEM education, see the following posts:

From Weebly to Wix, students (and teachers) today are building their own websites to go along with school projects and assignments. With a wide range of available tools that hide the code behind push-button GUIs, it is easy enough to stake virtual ground, and information that was once shared via a poster or a PowerPoint presentation is now often handled with a student-made website. While more students are putting up websites, they are not necessarily learning more than how to put content on the web in the most surface-level, drag-and-drop way—similar to how content is formatted and saved in a word processing program.

Knowing more about what's going on under the hood of a basic web page offers more control and the ability to better fine-tune a generic website. A graphic novel introduction from No Starch Press takes a Wizard of Oz approach to helping the main character learn about HTML, CSS, and WordPress (where the Wizard lives). The result is an engaging introduction to web coding basics as a stepping-stone approach to understanding, using, and controlling a content management system like WordPress.


Not Really 'Coding'

There are levels of code, scripting, and markup used to develop websites and web-based applications. The pages that users see when they visit a site are typically created using HTML and CSS. HTML (hypertext markup language) is used to tell the browser about the structure of the material (e.g., this is a headline, and this is a list). CSS (cascading style sheets) is used in conjunction with HTML to tell the browser what the content should look like (color, size, placement, etc.).

Once upon a time, coding for the web required working directly with HTML and CSS in a text editor. The "tags" you wrap around content when "coding" (or, more accurately, "marking up") information to show on a web page are interpreted by a browser, and only the content is shown to the viewer. (You can see what these tags look like by using the "view source" option in a browser to look under the hood of a web page and see how these tags are used to denote headlines, paragraphs, lists, and more.)

Today, many, many web sites are created using tools that simplify the process of preparing web content. These tools make it easy for people to create websites using front end interfaces that let you type (or paste) content directly into an online editor and format it much as you would using a word processing tool. The information is then automatically marked up by the system and each page (or entry) is stored in a database. Within these environments, you can also control the site's overall look and feel.
While learning to use HTML markup isn't necessarily "computer coding" in the sense that learning a language like Python, C++, or Java is, learning to use basic HTML is, arguably, a good way for students to begin working with text files that use a required syntax to make something "show up" in a computer browser. A basic HTML error won't necessarily crash a page, but learning to debug HTML or CSS issues is good practice and helps young coders develop good habits and testing skills.

Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS, and WordPress, written by Nate Cooper and illustrated by Kim Gee, takes a yellow brick road approach to learning about website development, beginning with HTML, adding in CSS, and then introducing WordPress, a popular content management system originally developed to make it easier for non-coders to create blogs. Today, WordPress is used by people to easily and quickly create and manage a wide range of websites (not just blogs). Much of the "code" that runs a website created using WordPress is already in place to make it easy to customize a site and publish your own content. But knowing the basics of HTML and CSS will help you have more control of how your content is displayed.

The more you know, the more you can tinker, which is why Kim, in Build Your Own Website gets a literal crash course in HTML.


The Comic Format

Build Your Own Website is presented, partly, in comic book (or graphic novel) format. The book tells the story of Kim (the illustrator), a young woman who has signed up for an evening class called Web Basics 101 because she wants to create an online portfolio website to share her art. Kim's teacher is Nate (the author).

Pretty quickly, we see that Kim, who does yoga and has a dog named Tofu, is confused about what she is learning in Nate's class and needs, you guessed it, a Wizard of Oz dream sequence to give her web skills a jolt. There is no tornado in site, but Kim crash lands a spaceship and discovers an HTML guru who is "learned in the ancient language of HTML."

The storyline of Kim's journey to learning basic HTML, CSS, and building her site with WordPress is simple to follow, funny in a roll-your-eyes, I-see-what-you-did-there way, and does a good job explaining concepts in a pared down, straightforward manner that fits inside dialog bubbles. The humor, be prepared, can be a bit forced (A tag like a shirt tag?), but the approach may especially capture the interest of students who think coding isn't something they can do and draw them into the story.

Each chapter contains a comic portion followed by traditional how-to instruction, information, examples, and lots more background information. (You will need to read both the comic vignette and the textbook portions! Not everything is covered in the graphic novel sections.)

From the guru, Kim learns about HTML tags and making, saving, and viewing files. With a few basic lessons from the guru, and armed with her site map, the Sword of Standards and Conventions (a few basic rules for file naming), and a healthy fear of the wild 404 dragon, Kim is sent off into the content forest to create her pages.

In Chapter 3, Glinda, the good witch, appears to teach Kim about CSS so that the site doesn't "look boring." With help from Glinda, Kim gets a look at how CSS can work with HTML to help her control the look and feel of her site.

In Chapter 4, Kim runs into Tin Man, Lion, and Scarecrow on her way to WordPress City. The man (a la Emerald City's Wizard?) at the entrance calls her HTML poppycock and says that WordPress City is a "modern, managed city that makes it easy to create web pages." Kim stays at the village inn, visits the library, learns about blogs, and sets up her first WordPress page. Later, she and the librarian "go shopping" in the Appearance Panel where Kim learns how themes work and how formatting can be taken on, off, and customized in WordPress (like an outfit).

In the end, Kim stumbles behind a curtain, and rather than finding the Wizard, she runs into the guru again, coming full circle and getting a reminder that HTML is still there, underneath it all.

With a supply of quarters to power her spaceship (rather than Dorothy's red shoes), Kim flies off, finds a host to set up her site, and puts what she has learned in action.

Build Your Own Website will appeal to a very specific audience looking to learn more about building a website, but for someone intimidated by the process, the book is a lighthearted and practical introduction. At the end of the book, a new web coder will have the skills needed to set up a free WordPress site and begin putting content in place and, if necessary, should be able to tweak the content directly using HTML and CSS.


Build Your Own Website cover

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Musical Bottles: Weekly Science Activity


Explore the science of sound by playing music on bottles / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a music-themed science activity that helps families explore the relationship between the sound an instrument like a clarinet makes and the length of the air column. When a sound wave travels down a longer or shorter distance, how does what we hear change? In this activity, students use glass bottles filled with differing amounts of liquid to experiment. With some careful listening and trial and error, you might be able to play a song by blowing on the bottles in a specific pattern! But you will for sure be able to hear and appreciate the differences in sound you can make by changing one of the variables involved in how the sound is produced.



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Solar Ovens Are Totally Hot!


Can you harness the sun to cook your dinner? A solar oven skeptic is converted.

Solar oven science project success story

My 6th-grader loves to build things, so when he needed an energy-related project for his science class, constructing a solar oven was right up his alley. He looked online for kid-friendly solar oven designs, many of which involve pizza boxes, and was skeptical. "I don't think this is really going to work," he announced.

After weighing the pros and cons of different designs, he decided go for Science Buddies' double-box solar oven, outlined in the Now You're Cooking! Building a Simple Solar Oven project. Spurred on by visions of roasted marshmallows, he was ready to start building!


Cardboard, Tinfoil, Black Paint, Glue, and a Turkey Bag

Perhaps my son was skeptical about a homemade solar oven because the required materials are so low-tech. Instead of making a trip to a hardware or electronics store, we picked up black paint and a turkey bag at the grocery store, and found everything else in the house.

The toughest part of the construction phase was adjusting the boxes so they were the right dimensions. My son calculated the required box height, which is based on the cooking pot size, and then measured and drew the lines. After one hairy attempt at cutting the heavy cardboard, dad took over use of the utility knife.

Attaching tinfoil to the cardboard surfaces of the oven was a different sort of sticky situation. After using lots of white glue to secure the foil to the oven's flat "heat shelf," my son decided that a glue stick was probably sufficient for attaching foil to the vertical interior sides of the boxes and would also be a lot less messy! As it turns out, the glue stick worked just fine. The final steps, gluing in the turkey bag "window" and bending a coat hanger to prop open the reflector panel, were a snap for him.


Time to Cook!

Construction was finished by half past three on a Saturday afternoon, and we were all excited to see the solar oven in action. My son measured one cup of water into the cooking pot, grabbed the oven thermometer, and carried it all out to the sidewalk. The goal was to get the water to boil. Would it work? Would the skeptics be proven wrong?!?

Dad and son played catch and peeked through the turkey bag window every five minutes (without blocking the sun!) to record the temperature. The oven heated up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit pretty fast, but then it seemed to stall out. We live on a hill, there are lots of trees, and the shadows were starting to get long in the late afternoon, given the time of year. The project was put on hold for the day, a pretty big disappointment.


Take Two

The next day, my son took his oven to the big, flat school parking lot at 11 a.m. It was windy, and the night had been cool, so again the skeptics wondered if it would work. At 11:12 a.m., the starting temperature in the oven was 65 degrees. In ten minutes, it was up to 145 degrees. Slowly, slowly, the temperature climbed, and the water was boiling an hour later. Success!

Part of the assignment was to make a change to the oven and then test it out again. My son constructed an additional reflector with yet more cardboard, tinfoil, and glue. Now it was my turn to be the skeptic. How could one extra flimsy tinfoil panel make a difference?

After letting the oven cool down, my son put the extra reflector in place and began recording the time and temperature again. Within 20 minutes, the difference was clear. (You will have to try it yourself to see what happens!) Excited by the results of his test, we continued to monitor the oven. As we were wondering how hot the oven could get, a strong gust of wind ripped the lid off, ending the experiment for that day.


Solar Cooking? S'more Please!

Yet a third trial on a later date provided mixed results. Not long after setting up the oven, cloud cover began to form in the sky. As we scanned the horizon, hoping to see a break in the clouds, the oven heated up enough to melt the chocolate in the "victory s'mores" that were cooking, but it was nowhere close to the high temperature it had reached on a sunny day.

Nonetheless, the success of the project turned my son and I from solar oven skeptics to true believers! Sitting in the parking lot, we licked dripping chocolate from our fingers, talked about the advantages and limitations of solar ovens, and plotted our next solar-cooked meal!

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November is Diabetes Awareness month. Learn more about Type 1 Diabetes and the kinds of medical devices, solutions, and applications being used and developed to help treat and manage the disease—and put yourself in the middle of ongoing research and development with a cutting-edge student biomedical engineering, human biology, or computer science project.

Diabetes science projects for students / Exploring medical bioengineering

When you get sick, you want to make sure you have the best possible treatment (or the right medicine) to help you get better quickly. Your needs in that situation are, hopefully, short-term. The right medicine or treatment may make the problem go away. If you have a chronic, lifetime disease, however, your interest in ensuring you have the best treatment plan in place may shift into hyperdrive because a single course of a medication won't solve the medical problem.

For a disease like Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), an autoimmune disease in which the body destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, both proper ongoing treatment and round-the-clock monitoring are required to ensure a person with Type 1 Diabetes stays healthy and prevents serious medical complications that may be associated with uncontrolled diabetes.


The Need for Insulin

For people with T1D, insulin is a requirement—not an option, and insulin isn't something you take occasionally, once a day, or even for just a few weeks. Every day, throughout the day, people with T1D monitor their blood sugar and take insulin in proportion to what they eat to keep blood glucose levels within a certain range. (In a person without diabetes, the pancreas manages the production and release of insulin.)

Many people with T1D take insulin by injection, which involves taking multiple shots a day, and many people at some point switch to an insulin pump to make insulin delivery more convenient and more precise. Insulin pumps can deliver insulin in much smaller increments than possible with a syringe, for example. A pump can also help deliver insulin over time, rather than all at once as a typical shot of fast-acting insulin does.


The Need to Monitor Blood Glucose

Taking insulin is only part of the day-to-day picture for people with T1D. They also have to always keep a close watch on their blood glucose levels. While blood glucose levels rise and fall in response to carbohydrates and insulin, blood glucose levels also go up and down in response to exercise, strong emotion, periods of intense concentration, illness (like the flu or stomach virus), and many other variables. Complicating things even more is the fact that blood glucose responses are different for different people. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan for T1D.

Fluctuations in blood glucose happen all day long, and people with T1D have to work to keep their numbers from going too high or too low, both of which can cause serious medical problems. The primary tool someone with T1D uses to keep tabs on blood glucose is a blood glucose meter. The meter uses a special strip to which the person applies a small sample of blood from the finger. The meter reads that blood sample and returns a blood glucose value. Many people with T1D check blood sugar levels 7-10 times a day or more.

Another tool people with T1D may use, in conjunction with finger-stick testing, is a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). A CGM involves a small sensor that is inserted just under the skin and performs blood glucose readings every few minutes, which it then transfers to a receiving device. The data gathered by a CGM can provide warnings to someone with T1D and help prevent a hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemic (high blood sugar) problem. A CGM not only reads current levels, but it can offer an indication of the way blood glucose is trending. One popular CGM, for example, uses a system of arrows to alert someone with T1D whether blood glucose is rising or falling—and how fast. CGM data also helps provide a look at the patient's blood glucose over time. Looking at the data over a period of days, for example, can help the patient (and her medical team) spot trends and patterns in the numbers that may result in changes in the patient's insulin plan (or food choices) at certain times of the day.


Smarter Tools

Both pumps and CGM options give patients greater control over their diabetes, but medical and biomedical research looking into ways to make these devices even smarter is ongoing.

Even with existing tools, there are improvements that could be made. For example, despite the fact that people with T1D rely on blood glucose meters when making decisions regarding their insulin needs, blood glucose readings can vary significantly even when tests are performed one right after another or from the same drop of blood. Blood glucose meter strips are also known to have different levels of accuracy at different thresholds of blood glucose. Improving the accuracy of blood glucose testing could make a real difference in how effectively a person can manage her T1D.

When looking at solutions to improve treatment and monitoring for those with T1D, the search for a smarter, more integrated solution immediately comes up. There is, in fact, a great deal of research time and money being spent trying to bring what is often referred to as an artificial pancreas, or a "closed" system, to the market. Researchers are looking to develop a piece of biomedical equipment which will act autonomously to regulate blood glucose—as a pancreas does. Such a system has to be able to read and monitor blood sugar; make decisions about what to do based on blood glucose levels, carbohydrates being eaten, and other variables; and administer insulin.

While there are many biomedical engineering research projects underway that may hold great promise for the treatment of Type 1 Diabetes in the future, advances take time and a great deal of testing. The process of getting something FDA-approved and into the hands of patients is often years and years away.


Individuals Brainstorming Solutions for Today

People with T1D or who take care of someone with T1D are often looking for answers and solutions that can help them right now with the management and monitoring of T1D. Already the desire to better use CGM data and have more visibility into T1D glucose numbers has led a group of parents to patchwork together a solution that allows data from a CGM to be transmitted to a cloud and thus accessible from a smart phone (or a smart watch). This kind of approach makes smart use of the tools and technologies already available and increases the potential and effectiveness of the tools.

A CGM often works only if the device on the person is within a certain number of feet of the receiver that shows the blood glucose number. Even in a single house, this proximity requirement may not allow a child to sleep in one room and a parent in another room to be able to monitor blood glucose with the receiver. Similarly, for parents with children with T1D in school, blood glucose events during the day are often a large unknown until the child comes home and data from a meter or CGM (or both) can be reviewed.

What parents want seems simple—the CGM data to be accessible from a mobile app, a website, or another device to enable remote monitoring.

Finding a way to change the current proximity requirements and limitations and get the data from the CGM device and into the cloud where it can be accessed and viewed by users via a website or mobile app is a powerful concept, especially for parents, and more than 8,000 families have already jumped on board with the Nightscout project, also referred to as CGM in the Cloud. Nightscout was started by a father of a child with T1D and has rapidly evolved with the support and collaboration of a number of families, both those helping further engineer the solution and those following the directions to implement their own Nightscout at home.

Nightscout requires a dedicated OTG-capable Android phone, a website, a cloud account, specific cables, and some old-fashioned tinkering (and maybe tape) to get the solution up and running, but with a mantra of "We are Not Waiting" (#wearenotwaiting) families are scrounging up parts, hacking the solution for their own families, and making blood glucose monitoring something more easily done anytime, anywhere.

Nightscout is not the only individual or small company solution dedicated to changing T1D management. From mobile apps to new meters to other cloud approaches, the T1D community is thriving with ideas, prototypes, and projects designed to make living with and managing T1D easier. (For a summary look at a few of these projects, see: CGM in the Cloud, Joslin's HypoMap and More at the DiabetesMine D-Data ExChange!.)


Students Making Real Connections

For students interested in diabetes research or in medical biotechnology, the kinds of projects underway related to T1D offer lots of exciting opportunities for student science project connections. The following projects at Science Buddies support students in learning more about T1D and the kinds of biomedical engineering, computer software and application development, and health and human biology that come into play treating and managing T1D today and tomorrow:

  • Dealing with Diabetes: The Road to Developing an Artificial Pancreas: This project idea guides students in a biomedical engineering project that lets them tackle and explore some of the issues researchers are addressing with similar real-world projects.

    In the Dealing with Diabetes project, students create a simplified model of an artificial pancreas that uses an electrical circuit and acid/base chemistry to enable a beginning investigation into the complexity of a self-regulating system.

  • Blood Sugar Balancing Act: How Exercise Tips the Scales: Exercise can have a big impact on blood sugar levels, but the way exercise affects blood glucose varies from person to person. Some people find that their blood sugar drops during exercise or immediately after, some people find that their glucose levels rise during exercise, and some people find that their blood sugar shows dramatic difference as many as twelve hours after exercise (in the middle of the night, for example). The variable response to exercise can make properly predicting insulin and carb needs tricky for someone with T1D. Understanding personal trends in response to exercise can help.

    In the Blood Sugar Balancing Act human biology science project, students conduct a series of trials to evaluate how someone's blood glucose responds to exercise.

  • Staying Healthy with Personal Medicine Apps: With MIT's App Inventor, students can set up apps that can help people remember important tasks—like taking their medicine. The new Staying Healthy with Personal Medicine Apps science project idea guides students in programming a medication reminder app. The project is not written specifically for diabetes, but students interested in healthcare and app development might explore MIT App Inventor and the idea of a personal medicine application that is geared for T1D treatment and the need for frequent testing and injection of insulin. (To better understand the uses of mobile apps for someone with T1D, a survey of popular glucose tracking tools like mySugr may provide helpful insight.)





Notes:


Science Buddies Project Ideas that support student exploration of diabetes and other global health issues like hemophilia and nutrition are sponsored by Novo Nordisk.


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Explore the science of speed and constant acceleration / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a physics science activity that helps families see gravity, acceleration, and speed in action. Gravity exerts force upon an object, but what does this mean in terms of how fast something falls? Does the speed of falling change based on how far something falls? Using a simple marble run, you can put these questions to the test and see how gravity's constant acceleration affects the distance that an object travels over time. (You can see how this works when riding a bike down a hill, too!)



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Explore the science of movie music / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a music-themed science activity perfect for Halloween week. What sounds do you associate with Halloween movies or Halloween music? What makes the sounds spooky,scary, or eerie? When you watch movies, what kinds of music do you hear, and how does the music fit what is happening in the movie? Are there patterns of instruments, pitch, or tempo that accompany certain scenes in movies?

Pull out your favorite Halloween family movies or playlists, put on your listening ears, and get ready to really tune in to the "sounds" of the movie or music using one of these sets of directions for either an independent science project or a home or classroom science activity:




Photo credit: Thomas Fries / Lizenz: cc-by-sa-3.0 de, via Wikimedia Commons

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Halloween Science Connections


Halloween black light science project Halloween brushbot science project Halloween lava lamp science project Halloween M&M science project

Halloween squishy circuits science project Halloween candy waterfall science project Halloween clot blood science project Halloween spherification juice balls science project

As Halloween approaches, there are a number of ways you can tie science in with activities and projects that let kids get hands-on with things slimy, ghoulish, gross, light-up, or glow-in-the-dark. For the trick-or-treat crowd, there are plenty of candy-themed experiments to help kids whittle down—or statistically analyze—some of their All Hallows' Eve loot, too!

Browse the following list of inspired Halloween science activities and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) connections to bring science to life for your kids and students this October:

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Candy Corn Geodesic Dome


A classic science (and geometry) project takes on Halloween tones with candy corn-colored candies, a few ordinary toothpicks, and a bunch of triangles.

Gumdrop geodesic dome halloween science activity

We are big fans in my house of the geodesic dome. We initially tried a bigger-than-expected version made from straws a few years ago. We had a great time putting it together—but it would not fit through the front door!

Making a small-scale geodesic dome from gummy candies is a much easier and faster way to introduce kids to the structure and shape of a geodesic dome. The Build a Gumdrop Geodesic Dome activity in the Science Activities for All Ages! area contains the simple directions you need to build your own.

With a tub of candy corn-shaped gum drops, my kids each built a geodesic dome over the weekend. The project doesn't take long, and the steps are well-described and illustrated in the activity. The gum drop and toothpick approach is also very forgiving. Precision in placing the toothpicks and candies isn't required to succeed, which makes the building accessible to a wide range of kids and students.

Once their domes were finished, my kids each built a small box (cube) using the same approach. The objective was to see how the strength of each shape compares. Once the cubes were constructed, they tried setting a variety of objects on each shape to see what would happen and how each would hold up under varying amounts of weight.

Finished with our science activity, one of my kids went on to expand from the cube shape, turning the initial base structure into the foundation for a more freeform sculptural piece. From science to food art!

I don't know if this will get us out of carving pumpkins, but it certainly was a lot less messy!





Support for the Science Activities for All Ages! area at Science Buddies was provided, in part, by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.

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Detective Science: Weekly Science Activity


Learn what blood stains reveal in a crime scene physics project / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a physics-focused science activity that helps families learn more about how forensic science can provide clues to solve crimes! Blood stains and spots at the scene of a crime can help detectives piece together what happened. In this activity, students use fake blood and investigate how blood stains change depending on the height from which the blood was dropped. It may sound gory, but there is interesting physics to explore!

You and your family can explore the science involved using one of these sets of directions for either an independent science project or a home or classroom science activity:




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An orange scrub brush gives a family science activity a boost of jack-o-lantern-inspired fun and leads to a great robotics exploration.

Brushbot hands-on Halloween robotics science activity

Ever since the new Brushbot family science activity launched at Science Buddies, with electronics components conveniently bundled in a multi-project kit from the Science Buddies Store, I have had it on my "must make" list for my kids.

Thinking it would be cool to couple trick-or-treat month and the robotics project, I decided we would make a Halloween-themed Brushbot. Intent on tying our bot into October's mix of pumpkins, ghosts, and ghouls, I dug around online until I (finally) turned up a small scrub brush that seemed just right in terms of color. (It is harder than you might expect to find an orange scrub brush! Plus, for this project, you need a scrub brush without a handle.)


A Simple but Successful Build

On a roadmap of robotics projects, the Brushbot is a stepping stone early in the path, right there with the friendly toothbrush head Bristlebots. Despite the googly eye charm of the sample shown in the Science Buddies activity, with its simple circuit and limited number of parts, I worried that it might be a bit too easy of a build (compared to working with a breadboard) to capture my student's interest.

I was wrong!


A Blueprint for Success

The steps of the Brushbot activity are very simple to follow. There are a limited number of pieces involved in hooking things together, and the activity does an excellent job of providing easy-to-follow directions (with photos).

In minutes, my son had the circuit complete and was wriggling the cork onto the motor. A few minutes after that, he was able to flip the brushbot on and see it go.

Unfortunately, after a few seconds of scuttling to one side, the brushbot fell over. He set it upright and let it loose again. It fell over. Time after time, the brushbot fell over almost immediately.

Rather than being a stumbling block or a "fail" in terms of the science activity, his brushbot's initial lack of stability was actually a wonderful fulcrum for exploration. He had positioned his cork the way the directions instruct, but he was seeing unexpected behavior from his brushbot.

He hypothesized why he thought it was falling over—and he started testing to see if he could improve and stabilize the movement of the bot.


A Robot in Hand

Contrary to the basic bristlebot and the light-tracking bristlebot, both of which we made last year, the brushbot is chunky. It is hand-sized. Its few and large parts are also easy to tinker with. The positioning and placement of the cork on the motor, for example, offers ample room for experimentation and testing that offers immediate, clear, and visible results for a young robotics engineer. How fast does it move? Does it move in one direction only? Does it stay upright? Does it move in a circle or in a line?

My student tried a number of positions for the cork, noting how the bot's movement changed each time. He also experimented with adding a good bit of extra electrical tape to secure the motor more firmly to the brush. (This did improve the balance and movement of his brushbot.)

Even after the initial "project" was over, throughout the day, he picked the brushbot up again several times, watched it scuttle around on the floor, and tinkered a bit more. He tried more than one cork (they vary in size and thickness), too, to see what difference those variables might make.


Great Introductory Robotics

Because the circuitry is less complicated than other bots we have built, there was less need to worry about the intricacies of the electronics components and the circuit. Instead of making the project too easy, this seems to have invited my student to spend more time tinkering with the brushbot and putting the engineering design process in action.

We didn't have googly eyes on hand. But we improvised some pumpkin-shaped eyes and mouth on pieces of duct tape that we attached to the front. (Admittedly, this was more important to me than to him. Your success with decorating your bot will vary based on your student!)

No matter how you decorate it or what color brush you use, the brushbot has potential to have a lot of personality and individual pizzazz, but it also offers a lot of hands on engineering satisfaction for students--and fast gratification.

There is not much that can "go wrong" with a robotics project like this one, which makes it a great entry point project for families and kids just beginning to experiment with robotics and electronics.


Extend the Fun

If your students enjoy making the Brushbot, be sure and check these other posts and projects:




Support for resources and Project Ideas in robotics is provided by Northrop Grumman, Symantec Corporation, and the Best Buy Foundation.

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Environmental conservation and energy science collide in a proposed solar power project that promises greener energy but threatens to disrupt a major migratory path for birds, including golden eagles, in the area. Students can explore similar issues for migratory birds and animals with a big data science project.

Palen Solar Electric Generating System
Photo: Illustration of the initial two-tower proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating System.

A large California solar project, the Palen Solar Electric Generating System Project was recommended (in modified form) last month by a California Energy Commission (CEC) committee. Two weeks later, the project developers, BrightSource Energy and Abengoa Solar, withdrew their application. The large-scale solar project, similar to (but smaller than) the nearby Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, raised a great deal of environmental outcry related to resident birds and wildlife, including the Desert Tortoise, and migratory birds which travel the Pacific Flyway and either overfly or winter in California. According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the number of birds that use the flyway is in the millions and includes more than 350 species.

Concern over disruption of the major migratory path which extends from Alaska to South America, in addition to concern over direct threats to birds (ranging from flying into the towers to suffering from exposure to solar flux) ruffled environmentalist feathers and inspired heated debate over the merits and risks of the proposed alternative energy system.


From Two Towers to One

The original Palen Project outlined in 2009 called for the construction of two 750-foot-tall, 250-megawatt power towers. After almost five years, the CEC issued a "recommendation" for approval in September 2014. Their recommendation was for a modified implementation of the project, only one 750-tower instead of two. While the recommendation called for a major scale back of the project, the amended Palen Project is still a sizable proposition. Phase one of the Palen Project, as approved by the CEC committee, would reportedly involve 1,900 acres of land in Riverside County on which the 750-foot tower and 85,000 heliostat mirrors that move in response to the sun would sit.

As Brightsource Energy explains it, in the proposed system, the mirrors track the sun and reflect sunlight to a boiler atop a tower. The reflected sunlight will heat the water and create "superheated" steam that will be used in a turbine to create electricity.


Birds in the Area

The CEC committee gave their recommendation, but they did acknowledge that the Palen Project, both in its original and amended form, will have negative consequences for wildlife, what they refer to in the Revised Presiding Member's Proposed Decision (PMPD) as "significant unmitigated impact." Nevertheless, the committee argued that the "benefits" of the Palen Project outweigh the risks, and the lengthy environmental and biological impact discussion in the 1182-page document outlines ways in which stipulations of the recommendation lower projected risks.

These summary statements appear in the opening lines of the report.

Star Wars and Bird Migration

For a related story with an out-of-this world and big-screen vibe, see Lord of the Wings: When Hollywood and Birds Collide. The article posted on the Audubon Magazine site reports on outcry from birding organizations when Star Wars Episode VII was filmed on location on an Irish island during mating season for several local bird species.


"Birds are the most conspicuous vertebrate found in the California Deserts. Records exist for at least 425 species from 18 orders and 55 families. These approximately 350 species are characterized as Neotropical migrants who pass through the region during spring and fall migrations. These birds include various raptors including Swainson's Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and numerous passerines, some of which include least Bell's Vireo, Southwestern Willow Flycatchers, many hummingbirds, and various warblers."

The report goes on to detail shorebirds and waterfowl that migrate through the area as well as species that over-fly the site or winter in the area. Loss of foraging and nesting habitat, as well as displacement during breeding, are also described. The report goes on to document factors related to the project that could further increase the mortality rate for birds (as well as bats and insects). These include collision with project objects, electrocution, disorientation, response to solar flux (radiated light energy), and more.


Making Real-world Science Project Connections

Students interested in birds (or other migratory animals) can learn more about migration patterns and the importance of taking into account migration, wintering, and over-flying behaviors and developing conservation planning strategies to ensure habitats are maintained.

In the following environmental and zoology science projects, students use big data from the Movebank.org site to conduct research projects related to bird movement:





Science Buddies Project Ideas and resources that help students explore Big Data are supported by EMC.

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Think baseball is all about runs, outs, balls, and strikes? What about physics, biomechanics, and statistics? Explore the science of baseball!

World series baseball science
Photo: Wikipedia

Baseball fever is raging at my house. The first order of business every morning is to find out if our favorite team won or lost the previous night's game. Equally important is checking to see if our team's closest rival won or lost. All of this baseball excitement will culminate in the 2014 World Series, which begins on October 21st.

These championship games, played between the winners of the American League and the National League, will showcase of some of the best baseball skills that Major League Baseball has to offer. To prepare, the players spend long hours practicing their skills, strengthening their bodies, and finding the right equipment for getting the job done. And, although baseball is a game, you can bet that it is serious business for the coaches and players involved.


Home Run Science

While trial and error can be part of honing sports skills, very often, there's also science behind finding the optimal way to do your best. For example, in baseball, coaches carefully track the results of a player's at-bats to help them improve their batting skills. Opposing coaches use the same information to create the best defense against that player. Similarly, coaches carefully study a pitcher's throwing form to help him find the fastest and most accurate method.

Are you batty for baseball? Whether you love to take your turn at the plate, or get all fired up about baseball statistics, Science Buddies has Sports Science Project Ideas to get you started on a home run science project:

  • Baseball Bat Debate: What's Better, Wood or Aluminum?: Hitting baseballs is science? Yep, so long as you keep track of the data! Head out to a field with two different types of bats to see if you can put an end to the wood vs. aluminum debate.
  • The Physics of Baseball and Hit Charts: What influences a baseball's trajectory off of a bat? Create a mini batting machine with a ping pong ball catapult and then, just like the big leaguers, examine your results on a scatter plot diagram. How do variables such as bat speed affect where the ball lands?
  • The Biomechanics of Pitching: What is the key to throwing a baseball fast and accurately? Grab some baseball buddies and explore what happens to pitch speed when you change the way you throw the ball.
  • How Do Baseball Stadium Dimensions Affect Batting Statistics?*: Does it matter which field you play on? Not all baseball fields are created equally. If you love math, delve into baseball batting statistics to explore the "ballpark effect."
  • The Physics of Cheating in Baseball: Momentum, a combination of speed and weight, is what makes a baseball fly. Experiment with solid wood and "corked" bats to see if you can find the best bat weight and swing speed for hitting a home run.

And just in case you are wondering, the 2015 season opener is on April 4. Not that anyone in my house will be counting the days. Mark your calendars, baseball fans, and see you at the park!



Science Buddies' Sports Science Project Ideas are sponsored by Time Warner Cable.
Time Warner Cable


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We go DIY with molecular gastronomy and family science as we make our own popping boba using the Spherification Kit from the Science Buddies Store.

Spherification popping boba

When it is hot outside, my kids love to pit stop at the nearby frozen yogurt shop where they can swirl frozen yogurt into an oversized paper bowl and load it up with toppings of their choice. Favorite toppings vary, but one kid's heaping concoction always includes little slippery, fruit-flavored balls—popping boba.


Popping boba are similar to the boba found in bubble (or boba) tea, but the small spheres have a very thin exterior skin, are filled with juice (or something similar), and "pop" in your mouth when you squeeze or bite them. In my house, the fascination with popping boba is so strong, and the availability at the yogurt shop so variable, that we ended up ordering popping boba in bulk.

We now have close to thirty pounds of the little liquid-filled balls sitting in giant plastic containers at the house!


Cool Home Science

Just about the time I was unpacking all that boba, the Spherification kit became available in the Science Buddies Store. I knew the molecular gastronomy spherification process is used in a human biology project that lets students explore how blood clots. In that science project, students use spherification to simulate and explore the clotting process—and to better understand what happens when clotting doesn't work properly. But I hadn't realized when reviewing the project on hemophilia and clotting that the same process used in the Science Buddies project to help students better understand a core biological process is actually a technique more commonly used to make something edible—tasty treats referred to as "spherification caviar" that can be eaten alone, added to desserts, or even used in drinks.

From juice-filled spherification caviar to spheres of sauces, honey, and even solid foods, many cooks use spherification to add something flavor-filled and unexpected to their dishes.

As I read the product information describing the Spherification kit and took a look at the brand new Serving Spheres for Supper: Use Molecular Gastronomy to Change the Shape of Your Food project that involves spherification, I realized that what students make in the project is very, very similar to popping boba.


Making Boba

My fifth grade student was excited to try making boba at home. We didn't do the spherification project as a science fair experiment, so we were not running trials based on the amount of sodium citrate added to our liquid solution (our "filling"). Even so, we knew from talking about the spherification project and process that not all liquids respond to spherification the same, in part because of their pH. Since fresh squeezed orange juice is what my student wanted to try for our foray into boba making, pH was a definite concern. The typical pH of orange juice is low, around 3.5, which makes it fairly acidic. (Tip: research the pH of other juices and drinks with your kids to find out how they compare! You can learn more about the pH scale here.)

For the spherification process to work with orange juice, we knew that we might need to lower the acidity of the juice by adding small amounts of sodium citrate to the mixture and seeing how well the spheres formed. (We also knew that even if spheres didn't form, we could inject strings of solution into the calcium bath and fish out something similar to gummy worms! Nothing you drop into the calcium bath is really going to be wasted... it just may or may not make a sphere.)

With that in mind, we got out our ingredients, opened the Science Buddies project up on a tablet for reference, and got down to some serious boba-making business.


Sizing Boba

Our spherification attempts were lots of fun, and as is often the case with home science activities, we tried a number of things, observed what happened with each change we made, and branched out and tried some unexpected things as well. We were amazed to see that dropping a drop of juice from the syringe into the calcium bath almost instantly formed a sphere. Excited by our immediate spherical success, we dropped several in (one by one), waited the 60 seconds, fished them out, and put them to the taste test. Because we hadn't rinsed them, they were a bit saltier than we expected (but still totally safe to eat). But, they worked! They were very much like popping boba—and filled with fresh orange juice. Very cool!

They were tiny.

Seriously tiny.

But they were juice-filled spheres, and they did pop in our mouths.

Using the syringe, we made several bowls of homemade popping boba. We played around with our solution, experimenting to see what difference differing amounts of sodium citrate might make. We made some gummy worms.

And then we got creative. The biggest disappointment for us was the small size of the caviar spheres. How could we make them bigger? What would happen if we dropped our juice into the mix by something larger, like a very small measuring spoon? We experimented with several differently sized spoons and techniques, and, voila, we ended up with larger boba.

The process was a huge hit, and we will definitely try spherification again. We have other questions we want to answer, and using a different kind of juice or drink will let us see how the process changes based on what food or liquid we use to fill our spheres.


Try It at Home

If you have kids who love kitchen science or who are enamored with popping boba, spherification is definitely something to try at home. The kit from the Science Buddies Store contains enough materials to make quite a bit of boba (or other spherification caviar), so this is a project you can pull out on a rainy afternoon, with a group of kids after school, or any time. You will need some regular household supplies on hand, including bowls, access to a blender, spoons, and your filling (e.g., juice), but the process is fast, and cleanup is easy.

Here are a few tips and pointers, based on our experience, for home experimentation:

  • Your juice (or filling) should be refrigerator cold before you begin. Many spherification recipes also suggest refrigerating the sodium alginate solution for several hours (to remove air bubbles). If you encounter problems making your boba, keep this in mind as something to try.
  • Mixing up the juice with the sodium alginate took some doing. We tried a handheld milk frother rather than a blender, for convenience. It may not have been powerful enough, and the sodium alginate did want to clump in the liquid rather than mix. Keep at it! You want to get the solution as thoroughly mixed as you can. If you have an immersion blender, you may find it just the right tool for the task!
  • Fishing the spheres, especially the super tiny ones, from our calcium bath was not easy using a regular spoon. If you have a small strainer-type spoon, or a spoon with very small slots or holes, you may find it easier to fish the balls out.
  • Rinsing the balls before eating them helps remove the salty taste.
  • Experiment with the angle at which you hold the syringe and how quickly you release the solution into the bath (or how forcefully you push the plunger).
  • If you decide to try larger spheres, experiment with the speed at which you drop the solution into the bath.
  • Keep in mind that boba made this way should be eaten shortly after making them. They will continue to harden!

If your home trials lead your kids to ask further questions about boba and how companies make lots of boba, you may enjoy watching a video like this one, which shows a tool that can be used to create uniform spherification caviar in batches (see screenshot below). You may also want to look around online at some of the many cool and exciting recipe ideas you will find for spherification caviar. Juice is only the beginning!

Spherification caviar maker / screenshot from video


Reverse Spherification

In your research on spherification and molecular gastronomy, you will also see "reverse spherification" mentioned and noted in some recipes. This is a process used when trying to encapsulate foods that contain calcium. Stay tuned for a Science Buddies project on making "yogurt ravioli" using reverse spherification!


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The current Ebola crisis in West Africa has already topped charts for all Ebola outbreaks in history. Though there are potential medicines being tested, the path to an available antiviral treatment is one riddled with questions and precautions for biochemists. Medical biotechnology science projects let students gets hands-on with the kinds of real-world research and development scientists are doing, right now, as they face the ongoing Ebola health crisis.

Ebola virus virion; Cynthis Goldsmith, CDC
Ebola virus virion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library, Cynthia Goldsmith

While there are thousands of diseases out there that we hope our immune systems can fight off as we move from place to place, meal to meal, and situation to situation, there are a few keynote diseases and viruses that stand at the top of the pile in terms of the fear they inspire. SARS. Swine flu. Avian flu. Ebola.

The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa that appeared in spring 2014 and continues to spread is the first Ebola outbreak since late 2012-early 2013. The difference this time is that the final tally on recorded cases in 2013 was 413. Already more than 6,000 cases have been reported in West Africa this year, and a World Health Organization statement released on September 26, 2014, reports that more than 3,000 patients with Ebola have died.

The current Ebola crisis has already affected more than ten times the number of people who contracted Ebola in 1976, the year the virus first appeared and, until now, the worst outbreak on record. The number of cases continues to climb, which has led to alarming predictions about the escalation of the epidemic.

In a startling report last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 1.4 million people may contract Ebola by January, 2015 in Liberia and Sierra Leone.


Where is the Medicine?

The exact cause of the Ebola outbreak has not yet been identified, but the mounting number of cases in West Africa has signaled alarm bells around the world because there is no proven preventative vaccine for Ebola or treatment for those who have Ebola. According to the CDC, "no specific vaccine or medicine (e.g., antiviral drug) has been proven to be effective against Ebola."

That doesn't mean researchers and doctors are not pushing boundaries in the race to find medical treatments. Researchers are looking for both a vaccine that may, in the future, help prevent someone from getting the Ebola virus and antiviral medicines that may help treat patients with the Ebola virus by reducing the duration of the illness, lessening symptoms, and decreasing the mortality rate associated with the virus. Antivirals are medicines used to treat a patient who already has the disease and work by blocking viruses from entering cells or replicating within cells.

For example, research is underway on ZMapp, a drug the CDC reports is being developed as a possible treatment for those infected with Ebola. The drug, "a combination of three different monoclonal antibodies that bind to the protein of the Ebola virus" is still in early stages of testing, however, and has, according to the CDC, not moved yet to testing in humans.

ZMapp may have potential as a future treatment for Ebola, but no Ebola-specific antiviral drug is available for immediate use to help doctors and patients who are battling the current Ebola epidemic. This reality has led some doctors to try existing antivirals (designed to treat other diseases) with Ebola patients.


A Real-world Science Project

A great deal of testing and research is necessary when developing new antivirals or exploring the possibility of using existing medications in the treatment of another disease. Students can explore the kinds of questions and challenges involved in the Hitting the Target: The Importance of Making Sure a Drug's Aim Is True medical biotechnology project.

In Hitting the Target, students use bioinformatics tools to explore questions related to research that has been done on Ebola and a potential antiviral that may be used to treat infected patients. A drug that binds to the NPC1 protein may work well as a successful Ebola antiviral, but what happens if the medication also binds with non-target proteins? This is the kind of question that biochemists and bioinformatics scientists must answer before a drug can be used to help treat patients.


What About Immunity?

While containment practices are critical in helping prevent the spread of Ebola in affected areas of West Africa, there are people who are immune to the disease, either because they have survived the virus, have possibly been in contact with small amounts of the virus before and not fallen ill, or possibly have some genetic immunity. Scientists do not yet know how many people may be immune and learning more about immunity and the antibodies present in those who are immune may help lead to the development of a vaccine. Students can learn more about how memory cells in the body help the body fight off repeat encounters with a virus in the Fighting the Flu: How Your Immune System Uses Its Memory science project.


What Triggered the Outbreak?

While reasons for the outbreak and the unparalleled spread of Ebola in the countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone are still being identified, the origin of the exposure may stem from bats, which are known to carry the disease and which are reportedly hunted (and eaten) in Guinea where the current epidemic may have started.

To read more about the possible relationship between bats and the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, see:

Science Buddies' Project Ideas in Medical Biotechnology are sponsored by the Amgen Foundation.

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An unusual caterpillar brings lots of "eeeews!" and one contribution to a citizen science project. Discover how anyone can collaborate on serious scientific research.

Acharia stimulea, larva -- Gerald J. Lenhard
Above: Acharia stimulea, larva, Gerald J. Lenhard, Louisiana State University, Bugwood.org


What do you picture when you think of a caterpillar? Green and hairless? Or perhaps black and fuzzy? Recently, I found a caterpillar on my car bumper, and its distinctive looks made me stop in my tracks. With crazy green and brown coloring, horns at both ends, and little spines everywhere, it looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss' book! I decided that this was definitely a look-but-don't-t ouch situation.

After taking a picture, I immediately went online to see if I could figure out what kind of caterpillar it might be. A little sleuthing helped me discover that it was most likely a saddleback caterpillar, or Acharia stimulea, that is native to where I live. Although this wild-looking creature will morph into a decidedly boring brown moth, I was right about not touching it—those spines secrete poison!


Citizen Science Lets Anyone Contribute to Our Knowledge of the World

I enjoyed sharing my photo with friends and family, and I later learned that I could go one step further and share my discovery on a "citizen science" web site called Butterflies and Moths of North America . By submitting my photo and information about where it was taken, I was contributing to the available knowledge about this particular species. How cool that information I collected may be used by scientists in their research!

Butterflies and Moths of North America is just one of many existing citizen science projects. Do a quick online search, and you'll find collaborative projects related to pollinators, astronomy, chemistry, the environment, and much more. These projects offer families and classrooms a simple but meaningful way to participate in scientific research. What a boost for kids to know that their efforts can have an impact outside of their home or school! You can find more detailed information and inspiration about animal-related citizen science that is fun for the whole family in Loree Griffin Burns's book, Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard. )


Science Right Outside Your Door

My caterpillar hung onto the car bumper for two days. Figuring that it would be happier living on a food source instead, we very carefully moved it to a plant in the yard. When we checked back later, there was a hole in the leaf, but the caterpillar was gone. Perhaps to start building its cocoon?

Do you have an interest in caterpillars, butterflies, or moths? If so, take a look at these Science Buddies Project Ideas:

  • Does Temperature Affect the Rate of Butterfly Development?: Using painted lady butterfly larvae, explore the relationship between temperature and the time it takes for pupae to complete metamorphosis. Why does it matter?
  • Build a Better Moth Trap: Will Different-colored Lights Affect How Many Moths You Catch?:
    Ever wonder why moths are attracted to artificial light? Learn more about the theories behind this phenomenon and discover which colors of light catch their attention best.
  • Butterfly Wings: Using Nature to Learn About Flight:
    How can delicate butterflies migrate thousands of miles? With a fan and a few other simple materials, create your own butterfly flight simulator to investigate the subtleties of wing position and smooth flight.
  • The Touch Response*: How do different animals use sensory structures, such as skin or antennae, to learn about their environment? Using gentle touches with a toothpick, compare the sensitivity of your skin on different areas of your body. Try the same experiment by gently touching each end of a (non-poisonous!) caterpillar with a toothpick.


Finding Science at Home
Next time you step outside, look and see what sort of "creepy crawly" life you can discover!

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Last week, we posted an overview of Code.org's Hour of Code activities (and their new Code Studio), along with some exciting Science Buddies Project Ideas for students who are ready to move beyond an Hour of Code and continue their exploration of computer programming.

In this very relevant video, UC Berkeley Professor Dan Garcia talks about the kind of "drag-and-drop," block-based, snap-together programming environments that are becoming increasingly de facto as a way to introduce students of all ages to code—environments like the ones that appear in Code.org tutorials, in Scratch, and in Tynker.

In the video, Professor Garcia does an excellent job explaining why this kind of approach may really work for students at all levels to provide an engaging and exciting learning space for first-time programmers. With computer coding syntax bugs taken off the table, students can focus, instead, on what they can do with computer-based thinking and logic.



After you watch the video, check out the following Science Buddies projects, resources, and articles:


Drag-and-drop App Creation

The new Can You Crowdsource a Better School Environment? computer science project is the second project at Science Buddies that uses MIT's App Inventor as a programming environment for app development. In the new crowdsourcing project, students use App Inventor to create an app to encourage members of a community (like a school) to all work together to accomplish something.

To explore App Inventor further, see the Staying Healthy with Personal Medicine Apps science project. The project guides students in programming a reminder app using MIT App Inventor.




Support for Computer Science Project Ideas is provided by Symantec Corporation.

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Computer Programming Basics: An Hour of Code


With more and more kids playing video games and using apps, the secret to introducing kids to computer programming may be in making a game of it. With a smorgasbord of fun, engaging, playful, and puzzling modules available as part of the Hour of Code initiative, kids can experiment with programming basics and sample Javascript, Python, Ruby, and more. For kids just getting started with computer programming concepts, a gamified approach may make all the difference in showing them that programming is both fun and something they can do.

MIT App Inventor

MIT App Inventor Helps Students Program Smart Apps
With MIT's App Inventor, students can set up apps that can help people remember important tasks—like taking their medicine. The new Staying Healthy with Personal Medicine Apps science project idea guides students in programming a reminder app using MIT App Inventor and an exploration of the ways in which such apps may make a difference in personal healthcare.

In the new Can You Crowdsource a Better School Environment? computer science project, students use MIT's App Inventor to create an app to encourage members of a community (like a school) to all work together to accomplish something.


Encouraging Kids to Program

In addition to the Hour of Code samples and the Science Buddies projects and resources mentioned, students, teachers, and parents can learn more about available programming languages, tools, and environments in the Kid-Friendly Programming Languages guide. This table of options can help you guide students who are ready to strike out on their own for more complicated computer programming projects.

See also: Playful Programming and Cool Code: From Tech User to Tech Creator.

Do your kids lose all track of time when it comes to video games? In what feels like a blink, minutes may morph into hours, hours of intense concentration and engagement. Can this level of engagement be used as a platform for education? Is playing a game as fun when it is educational? Can routine "practice" and skills introduction be embedded in game play in a way that can grab and hold student attention and interest?

The appeal of video games is strong for many kids, a fact that has drawn educators and developers to the gaming and gamification market. Check a parent's mobile device, and you may find an assortment of educational apps for students in a wide range of subjects. Many parents stock up on educational apps as a way to salvage wait time and turn typical game playing into a potentially brain boosting activity.

Math Ninja, for example, is one of scads of math-focused apps for elementary school kids. To protect the tree house in Math Ninja, players have to successfully solve more and more equations to earn the money necessary to better equip (and level up) their defenses. The attacking forces (led by an angry, oversized tomato) increase in strength, skill, specialty, and number, so the only way to survive is to amass enough money to buy better powers and to upgrade defenses. You have to solve the problems that appear during the interludes between attacks in order to gain necessary resources, which you can then spend on upgrades in preparation for the next wave of attacks.

A balance of the game involves solving equations as you move through the chapters of the story-driven game, the evil tomato getting more and more creative about trying to destroy the treehouse. As a player, solving the math facts, and doing so quickly, is the mechanism that gets you farther along in the game.

Games like Math Ninja mask or temper the rigors of practicing and refreshing core subject matter, a Mary Poppins spoonful of sugar with the medicine approach that puts learning into a fun and exciting gamified format and storyline, an approach that some kids will more readily swallow than sitting with a stack of traditional flash cards or a workbook.

Using the same "make it a game" approach, developers have readily jumped on the gamification bandwagon in hopes of getting more students interested in computer science. With people like MIT's Mitch Resnick, developer of Scratch, advocating the need for all students to be familiar with fundamentals of computer programming—the need for kids to transition from passive app users to active creators—developers have latched onto game play as a way to get more kids excited about code.

Gamification may be a back-door approach, but with games and challenges in which players pick up and practice core coding skills in order to win or move forward, educators, developers, corporate leaders, and organizations like Code.org hope to galvanize students by showing them that computer science is both fun and doable.


An Hour of Code

Getting kids excited about programming may sound like a good idea, but teachers may worry about fitting computer science into already crowded lesson plans. The good news for time-crunched teachers (or parents at home) is that introducing programming to students may be as simple as hooking them up with a free "hour of code" activity.

Through Code.org and Computer Science Education Week's (CSEdWeek) Hour of Code initiative, companies have put together bite-sized modules, tutorials, and games that let students explore programming basics as well as language-specific skills, including JavaScript, HTML, and Python. On the Code.org site, teachers can browse participating hour of code activities, lesson plans, and modules that, in an hour or less, give students a taste of what it means to "code" something. These nice, neat, and tidy, hour-long packages make it easier for teachers to bring computer science into the classroom. These Hour of Code modules can also be done by students at home, for fun, or as extra challenges.

To date, Code.org notes that more than 42 million users have tried an "hour of code."

A screenshot from Code.org's sample Hour of Code activity
Above: A screenshot from Code.org's sample Hour of Code activity.



More Than an Hour of Code

For teachers looking to extend their programming unit, Code.org has more extensive-options, including the newly launched Code Studio, three 20-lesson programming courses for K-5 elementary students. The Code Studio courses include a mix of videos, online activities, and "unplugged" activities (no computer required) and are designed to make it possible for even kindergarten students and pre-readers to begin learning about and using code-oriented thinking skills. In the earliest lessons of the first course, for example, students are guided through several activities that get them familiar with the drag-and-drop approach that will be used for the coding blocks. For teachers, a dashboard to track student progress is available, as are professional development workshops.

As shown in the screenshot above, Code Studio modules teach programming basics using a snap-together block system that looks very much like Scratch. With familiar characters like Rio's Angry Birds crew, these lessons have been developed to resonate with students and draw them in from the start. It looks like a game, but game play involves hooking together the right blocks of code.

In addition to the new Code Studio, the free K-8 Intro to Computer Science course is still available on the Code.org site. The K-8 Intro requires 15-25 hours for completion and takes students through 20 multi-activity stages covering multiple programming concepts. According to Code.org, the K-8 Intro course has been used in more than 25,000 classrooms.

Each module in the K-8 Intro is prefaced by a short video that explains the kind of computer programming element that will be used and then summarizes the challenge of the exercise. For example, Bill Gates (Microsoft) explains how If/Then statements work, and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) explains, with an example of wishing everyone on Facebook Happy Birthday, the value of using loops. These exercises also use familiar game characters like those from Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies and also use the snap together coding environment. Students can also build their own Flappy Bird-style game in the separate Flappy Bird Tutorial and, along the way, use and practice drag-and-drop programming.

Co-developed and subject-specific workshops and curriculum materials are also available at Code.org for middle and high school students and educators. For middle school students, Code.org and its partners have created interdisciplinary modules designed to be integrated with regular science and math classes. These curriculuma support Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core. In the science curriculum, students work through modules that include computer modeling and simulation, an Earth science module on water, a life science module on ecosystems, and a chemistry module on chemical reactions.


Four to Check at Home or in Class

The range of Hour of Code opportunities for students and teachers to explore is exciting, and there are numerous online environments, games, classes, books, and apps that further encourage students of all ages to learn and use programming-based logic and thinking. For students interested in programming, these games and challenges can be stacked, combined, or done as time allows.

Here are four coding stepping stones (and one extra game) to check out after whetting interest with an Hour of Code module or activity.

    Scratch
    Scratch, developed in the MIT Media Lab, is a foundational drag-and-drop, snap-together, block-oriented programming environment. Scratch does not offer a guided introduction to programming, but with a basic understanding of the drag-and-drop blocks, students can build and share their own games and applications using Scratch's free online environment. Students can also learn by modifying existing applications.

    Science Buddies has a number of projects that involve Scratch. For more information, see Science Fair Project Ideas Using Scratch, Playful Programming and Cool Code: From Tech User to Tech Creator, and A Trick of the Eye for Halloween.

    For a guided, project-based approach to familiarizing students with Scratch, check our review of Super Scratch Programming Adventure!: Learn to Program By Making Cool Games .

    Screenshot from Scratch
    Above: A screenshot from within the Scratch environment.


    Tynker
    Tynker is an online computer programming learning environment that offers a fee-based program for students. Students can sample the Tynker approach with its animated Hour of Code modules. These activities are friendly, story-driven, and earmarked for certain target age ranges.

    With Tynker's Hour of Code modules, students can dive in and start solving story-based challenges that begin with very basic tasks and get progressively more challenging. Using drag-and-drop programming blocks, students snap together programming elements to solve a specific task and then run the program to see if the solution works. As the program runs, the blocks are highlighted one by one, reinforcing that each element in the program plays a specific role (a key concept in later being able to troubleshoot where a program might be going wrong).

    A Tynker app is also available for iPad and Android. The app encourages game and app building and comes with nine game kits to get kids immediately started customizing their own games. The Tynker app also includes access to a library of sample coding projects and a host of built-in elements for kids to incorporate into their ideas, including sound, tilt, and touch. Additional add-ons are available as in-app purchases.

    Tynker hour of code screenshot
    Above: Tynker offers a number of Hour of Code activities for students, like Lost in Space, shown above.

    Lightbot
    Lightbot is a game for iOS or Android. You have to purchase Lightbot to explore the full set of levels, but an Hour of Code limited version can be played on a mobile device or via a Flash-enabled Web browser. (Editorial note: in our tests, we preferred the experience of the Hour of Code version on an iPad compared to the Web-based version.)

    Depending on the student, moving through the sample may not take a whole hour, but the game is fun and engaging and introduces students to basic programming elements. For each level, the player is challenged to move the bot to a specific square and light it up. To do so, the series of commands to "move" the bot correctly to the endpoint have to be "programmed" by the player. Sometimes, you need to make the lightbot jump, turn, or repeat a set of motions. In each major section (basics, procedures, and loops) there are multiple levels with increasing difficulty as new elements are introduced. There are two version of Lightbot available: Lightbot Junior (42 levels for ages 4-8) and Lightbot (50 levels for ages 9-11).

    Lightbot hour of code screenshot
    Above: A screenshot from the Lightbot Hour of Code activity.

    Kodable
    Kodable is a game for iOS and designed for students age 5 and up. Similar to Lightbot, students use blocks to help guide fuzzy creatures through a series of train track screens. Like Lightbot, Kodable takes what feels like a game-board approach in which you need to get the character from one spot to a specified end point. Lightbot uses a small grid, a grid that grows in depth as students tackle new challenges. Kodable, on the other hand, takes users through an imaginary landscape, what looks like a blue sidewalk on a lawn of grass and involves movement that brings Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders to mind. You need to get the fuzz from one side of the screen to the other, picking up the gold coins along the way. Audio prompts and sound effects help guide the player in knowing what to do, and players can choose from a variety of colorful fuzz creatures to use.

    One of the notable differences in Kodable's early levels, and a mark of its younger target audience, is that players need to specify the direction for the fuzzy creature to roll but not how many spaces need to be covered. If the fuzz is told to roll right, it will roll right until it hits an end point (or is told to stop). Though this approach seems to simplify the process, Kodable quickly introduces new skills, like changing direction based on the color of a block rather than rolling to an end wall (the equivalent of a "when" or "if" statement).

    As the fuzz rolls along when the code is executed, the directional blocks are highlighted so that the player sees each command in the context of how the fuzz moves as it rolls along, picks up gold coins, and moves to the end point. As the player works through the levels of the game, the maze or "track" gets bigger and more challenging to navigate. Plug in the right set of directions though, and the fuzz makes it across the screen. The free app contains 45 levels. Through in-app purchase, users can extend the game with three different challenge sets. Several documents for educators are available that show how Kodable aligns with Common Core standards.

    Kodable screenshot
    Above: A screenshot from within the Kodable learning environment.

    Cargo-Bot
    Designed for the iPad (and built using the Codea iPad development environment), Cargo-Bot is a fascinating and challenging puzzle-oriented game. Like many other programming games, users are challenged to move piles of colored bricks into specific locations by writing code using right, left, up, and down movements that can be embedded in routines and loops and even limited with color-based conditionals. The early levels of the tutorial are easy, but the difficulty quickly picks up, and even seasoned coders (and adults) may find Cargo-Bot a real challenge. As is true in most coding environments, there are often multiple ways to solve a challenge, and users can earn one to three stars for solving the puzzle, depending on how many code blocks are used in the solution.

    Cargo-Bot is not designed, necessarily, as an educational app for computer programming. Students with an interest in programming, however, or students who really enjoy the challenge of puzzles and this kind of logic may find it a great and mind bending game.

    Cargo-Bot screenshot
    Above: The Cargo-Bot game on iPad challenges gamers to solve puzzles by programming the right solution.


Getting kids excited about code is a first step. But at some point, they have to be able to look under the hood of drag-and-drop blocks and make the leap from game play and visual block-based coding environments to the real lines and strings and blocks of code used in programming—the text and syntax that the colorful blogs in drag-and-drop environments stand in for and hide.

How effectively and smoothly kids can transition from cool graphical coding and gamified challenges and playscapes to real-world coding is something educators and developers are watching and something that needs to be addressed to put a bridge in place that can help keep student enthusiasm high even when the gamification of coding tapers off as students advance beyond pre-set learning modules and challenges.


Science Buddies and Computer Programming for Students

Science Buddies offers a wide range of computer science projects for students interested in exploring computer programming and video game design. The following Project Ideas are recent additions to the Science Buddies library of more than 1,300 free projects for K-12 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) exploration:


Stay Tuned!

Science Buddies is currently working on a fun new set of activities that will enable kids to use Scratch to interface with sensors and build their own interactive instruments, artwork, and other creations.



Support for Computer Science Project Ideas is provided by Symantec Corporation.

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What's in a Watermelon?


Are the seeds in your watermelon playing hide-and-seek? Can plants grow without soil? The plant world offers a cornucopia of mysteries that are ripe for investigation.

Watermelon seeds inspire science inquiry for students and families

On a hot summer day, cold, crisp, and juicy watermelon is one of my favorite treats. Delicious and healthy, watermelon is hard to beat, especially when you also consider the entertainment those big black seeds can provide. That's right, put one in your mouth and spit it as far as you can! Did you know that the current watermelon seed spitting world record is almost 70 feet?


Where Did All of the Seeds Go?

Before you organize a backyard seed-spitting contest, you may want to see if you can find a seeded watermelon. Years ago, every watermelon at the grocery store was full of black seeds, but now, in most U.S. stores, you have a harder time finding watermelons with seeds than without. How can this be? Don't you need seeds to grow more fruit?

That sounds like a great science question for students and families to explore!


Science on the Table and in the Garden

While the science of growing seedless watermelons might be difficult for younger children to understand, there are certainly lots of plant-related science questions that kids of all ages can explore. Whether you are snacking on a piece of fruit or caring for a houseplant, start a conversation about why and how things grow.

Below are a few Science Buddies Project Ideas to get you started.


Plant the Seeds for Future Interest in Science

From potatoes to moss, you'll find even more plant-related ideas in Science Buddies' Plant Biology section.

And if you find watermelons with seeds at your local market, you might see how your seed spitting skills compare with the current record!


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Now within twenty miles of its target comet, the Rosetta spacecraft may help provide information about the formation of the solar system and planet Earth. Students and classes can join scientists in the next year of Rosetta watching and, along the way, explore comets and space science through hands-on science projects.

A rendering of the Rosetta Satellite arriving at Comet 67P. ESA
Above: A rendering (not to scale) of the Rosetta Satellite arriving at Comet 67P. Photo: Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet image: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM.


When it comes to space science and astronomy science projects, things don't always move at light speed other than in the movies. Instead, some experiments, observations, and projects involving space take meticulous planning and possibly years of waiting and tracking before the end goal comes into sight or alignment.

Last month, the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft finally arrived at its destination—a rendezvous with the Churyumov-Gerasimenko Comet (Comet 67P). Launched in 2004, the Rosetta craft traveled for ten years, two of which it spent in hibernation to conserve energy, before pulling up alongside Comet 67P. Already spanning a decade, the mission has been an exercise in advance planning and a feat that required countless calculations, trajectory plans, and even multiple slingshot maneuvers from Earth's gravitational field.

In its final few months of approach, the ESA reports that Rosetta went through a series of ten rendezvous maneuvers to tweak the craft's trajectory and speed. Every adjustment had to be right on target for the Rosetta to successfully intersect with Comet 67P.

In a statement released by the ESA on August 6, 2014, Jean-Jacques Dordain, the Director General of the ESA, announced, "After ten years, five months and four days travelling towards our destination, looping around the Sun five times and clocking up 6.4 billion kilometres, we are delighted to announce finally 'we are here.'"

Reaching the comet and pulling up within range of its orbital path was a pivotal step for the Rosetta spacecraft mission—a make-or-break moment in the mission—but the Rosetta has still not completely locked itself into place. Flying a triangular shape near the comet, Rosetta will continue to get closer to Comet 67P until it is close enough to be pulled in by the gravitational force of Comet 67P, which sources say should happen when Rosetta reaches a distance of 6.2 miles from the comet.

As it hovers near Comet 67P, Rosetta will be mapping the comet's gravitational field and surface and scouting a location for dropping a lander onto the surface of the comet in November. Already, the Rosetta spacecraft has begun capturing close-up images of the comet, giving astronomers and scientists an unprecedented up-close look at the surface of a comet.


Closing In on New Answers

Comets, made up of ice and dust, are frozen vestiges of the formation of the solar system, and scientists are hoping that Rosetta will be able to help provide information and data to solve one of the oldest unanswered questions about the Earth—where did the water in the oceans on Earth come from? That comets are responsible for the oceans is one theory, and scientists are hoping Rosetta may be able to provide answers.

A decade after liftoff, Rosetta is finally in position and primed for the final and pivotal year of its mission. As Rosetta moves ever-closer to Comet 67P and, in November, drops its landing module, students and the science community alike will be eagerly watching to see what Rosetta discovers.

Student Space Science

Unlike members of the Rosetta team, students don't have ten years to plan and execute their science projects. For students interested in space science, the simple reality that space is "out there" can make it challenging to conduct a physical experiment.

Blake Bullock, Northrop Grumman

A Career in Space Science and Engineering

Students interested in space science and astrophysics can learn more about possible STEM career paths in this interview with Blake Bullock, Civil Air and Space Director for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. Trained first as an astrophysicist, Blake says her job lets her spend time thinking "about the future of science, technology, and aerospace innovation."

Space is a long way away! As a result, when it comes to student space science, many projects are data-driven projects which let students delve into an astronomy question, form a hypothesis, and then analyze publicly-available data sets to draw conclusions. Examples of projects like this include: Asteroid Mining: Gold Rush in Space?, NASA Asteroid Database: What Can You Learn About Our Solar System?, Sunspot Cycles, Correlation of Coronal Mass Ejections with the Solar Sunspot Cycle, Finding the Center of the Milky Way Galaxy Using Globular Star Clusters, and The Milky Way and Beyond: Globular Clusters.

These kinds of data-driven investigations can be exciting for students and offer a taste of the kinds of real-world data analysis that many space scientists do. When possible, however, and especially for students in lower grades, hands-on projects that bring space science questions to life through everyday materials, models, and simulations may more effectively capture the attention of students with an emerging interest in space science.

Inspired by the school science project of Ashleigh (profiled in the Galactic Curiosity: Fifth Grade Student Charts a Science Course for the Stars story), the new Satellite Science: How Does Speed Affect Orbiting Altitude? astronomy project guides students in exploring, using cookie sheets and a variation of marble painting, the relationship between satellites and the gravitational pull of the object they orbit.

Tasked with the need for a tangible simulation to meet her school fair requirements, Ashleigh innovated an experiment to test questions she had about the Cassini satellite and Jupiter. In the new astronomy Science Buddies project based on Ashleigh's experiment, students set up and utilize a model to explore questions about the trajectory of satellites as they revolve around planets. With a homemade satellite launcher made from cardboard tubing, students put their model satellites into orbit and study the paint trails that mark different trajectories created by different simulations of gravitational pull.

Homemade satellite launcher used in the Satellite Science astronomy project
Above: the homemade satellite launcher used in the Satellite Science astronomy project.

Students can learn more about comets and satellites in the following Science Buddies Project Ideas:


Science Buddies Project Ideas and resources in Astronomy are supported by Northrop Grumman.

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Tie-Dye Using Permanent Markers Chemistry Activity and DIY Project  / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a chemistry-focused family science and craft activity that lets students explore the concept of solubility while using permanent markers to decorate a T-shirt (or piece of fabric). Permanent markers are designed to be lasting, so what happens when you add water? What happens when you add alcohol? Does the marker ink react the same to both water and alcohol? Put these questions to the test in a fun hands-on science experiment. At the end of the project, students will have designed a cool tie-dye piece, too. This is science you can wear!

Permanent marker-based tie-dye is a fun spin on traditional tie-dyeing and a lot less messy! (But do be careful, permanent markers are called permanent for a reason.)

Families can explore solubility and marker-based tie-dye in the following Science Buddies activity at Scientific American:

For additional science exploration related to markers, the dyes in markers, and tie-dye, see the following projects at Science Buddies:




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Brushbot from the Bristlebot robotics kit at Science Buddies
Above: The Brushbot is one of the three robots kids can build using the Bristlebot Kit from the Science Buddies Store.

A brand new Bristlebot Kit launched today in the Science Buddies Store. With this new kit, students can experiment with three styles of introductory robots and learn more about robotics engineering. The kit has been specially designed to make building the robots easier for students to do independently—and fun!

The new Bristlebot Kit contains components for use with several Science Buddies Project Ideas and activities, including:

For more information about introducing robotics engineering projects to K-12 students at school or at home, see the following:



Support for resources and Project Ideas in robotics is provided by Northrop Grumman, Symantec Corporation, and the Best Buy Foundation.

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Are you a picky eater? Maybe there is a scientific reason for your reluctance to eat certain foods even if you know they are good for you. If you are going to a casual family gathering this summer or have friends over, you might be able to have some tongue-dyeing taste-testing fun in the name of science!

Super taster science experiment
Above: With an easy and colorful science experiment, you can see if you are a super taster. Be sure to have a magnifying glass on hand!

Chartreuse pants and a flashy orange shirt? Your taste in clothing may say a lot about you and your personality. If you have a really quirky sense of style, you might even have heard the expression, "your taste is all in your mouth"! How about your taste in food? Will you eat anything, or do you gravitate toward certain kinds of foods and steer clear of others—even ones you know are good for you? Do you like things salty? Do you prefer sweet? Neither? What about sour? Do you like the taste of cinnamon? When you taste a cookie, can you isolate and identify lots of different ingredients? Or do you just taste "cookie"?

From the time kids first start eating solid foods, most parents try to introduce a wide range of healthy and colorful foods in addition to staples like oatmeal and rice. Despite the best airplane-in-the-air-coming-in-for-landing maneuvers, spooning pureed veggies to a toddler can be a very messy process, one involving a good bit of thrown and spat food. As kids grow, more and more veggies appear, as do a wide range of other foods, herbs, and spices.

Things may get less messy, but despite repeat attempts to make kids eat their veggies, some kids (and some adults) never do learn to stomach their broccoli. Some kids (and some adults) won't touch grapefruit. They may, in fact, always seem to be super picky compared to others who will seemingly eat just about anything. It may seem like they don't have "enough" taste, but the opposite may be the case. Picky eaters may, in fact, be picky because they have more rather than less sense of taste!


Tongue Science

The number of taste buds in the mouth varies from person to person. People with a larger number of taste buds are classified as supertasters. On the other end of the taste spectrum are non-tasters, and the rest of us average tasters fall in between.

Supertasters taste things with far more specificity and intensity than average tasters or non-tasters. They are especially sensitive to certain kinds of tastes like bitterness, and some foods, like broccoli and kale, are ones that supertasters can't stand. They don't just dislike green veggies, however. There are a wide range of foods, spices, and flavors that may trigger a supertaster's resistance, including things that are sweet or salty.

Scientifically speaking, a picky eater might, in fact, be a supertaster, and finding out is easy to do with a hands-on science project.

The Do You Love the Taste of Food? Find Out if You're a Supertaster! human biology science project outlines a simple experiment kids can do using food dye and office supply store paper reinforcement rings. Rather than just recording how things "taste," in this project, students quantifiably measure and compare people's taste buds. Color a ringed area of the tongue with a drop of food dye, and you can count the number of papillae in the area. Match that number up to a chart, and you can see where your taste sensitivity falls.

Maybe you are a supertaster! But what about the rest of your family? How do the numbers compare among age or gender groups? This is a fun science activity to do with friends and family. You will all end up with a colorful tongue spot for a while, too!


More Taste Buds Fun

You can continue taste-test science this summer with your friends and family with science projects and activities like these:


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Stay up late, or get up really, really early to catch nature's annual fireworks display. Students and families can extend Perseids fun with a hands-on science exploration of parallax. How far away are the things we see in the sky?

Stargazing parallax science activity / Hand-on STEM experiment


Each August, a much-anticipated nighttime show plays live in our skies: the Perseid meteor showers. This annual event offers you the year's best opportunity to see meteors streaking across the sky, so long as you are willing to be awake well after midnight!


Cosmic Collisions Make for Great Light Shows

Why does the Perseid meteor shower happen each August? Because that's the point in our orbit around the Sun when we are crossing the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle. As Comet Swift-Tuttle travels through space, it leaves behind bits of rock and ice called meteoroids. Some of these fast-travelling meteoroids burn up when they hit Earth's atmosphere. The bright light that we see when this happens is called a meteor. You may have heard some people call these "shooting stars," but meteors aren't stars at all, just burning space debris!

While it is possible to see a meteor on any night, so long as you are looking in the right place at the right time, the Perseids are special because as Earth crosses through the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle, lots of meteors are likely to be visible in the sky, so many that it is called a "meteor shower."


Maximize Your Chances of Seeing a Meteor

Most years, scientists would recommend that you view the Perseids during the "peak" of the showers, which is the time when they expect the most meteors to be visible in the sky. However, this year the moon will be so bright during the expected peak days of August 12 and 13, that scientists are suggesting you head outside in early August.

Your best chance for seeing meteors is in the few hours before dawn, as far away from city lights as possible. Although a blanket or reclining chair will keep you comfortable, the only "tool" that's required is patience. Good things come to those who wait!


Sky Science Connections for Students

Students and families interested in the Perseids, in stargazing, or in astronomy in general can ask space science questions and experiment with Science Buddies astronomy science projects and family science activities.

For example, with a hands-on backyard setup using hula hoops, students (and families) can explore the relationship between the distance of an object and the perspective from which the object is viewed. The way an object appears to move or shift when you look at it from two different positions is known as parallax and is an important concept in understanding how astronomers determine how far away things are in the sky. Both a student science project (suitable for a science fair) and a shorter family science activity are available:

These family science experiments don't require the night sky or a telescope, but by exploring parallax, students can better understand how scientists measure how far away things are in the sky.

For more fun family science that connects with this month's Perseids, see Meteor Science: Weekly Science Project Idea and Home Science Activity Spotlight. For added inspiration for student astronomers and space enthusiasts, see the Galactic Curiosity: Fifth Grade Student Charts a Science Course for the Stars student science success story. The Satellite Science: How Does Speed Affect Orbiting Altitude? project idea based on the student's fifth grade astronomy experiment is now part of the Science Buddies directory of free project ideas!


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Now you're cooking solar oven from pizza box science activity / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: an energy-focused family science activity that doubles as an alternative energy experiment and a recycling project. Using a pizza box (or other shipping box), foil, a few other readily available materials, and the power of the sun, you can make a functional solar-powered oven. Cooking will take longer than in a kitchen appliance, but with some planning, you can cook a meal or prepare a campsite batch of s'mores with your own homemade solar oven! How does a solar oven work? How does the design of a solar oven work to trap and use radiated heat? Build your own to find out. You might discover a solar oven has something in common with a greenhouse, too!



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Holey Porous Rock Science!


Examining rocks can be a springboard for a fun family science exploration. With different kinds of dried beans, plastic cups, and water, kids can model rocks and observe the way different sized particles in rocks affect how much water a rock can hold.

Rock porosity science project with rocks modeled from cups of dried beans

What do rocks and sponges have in common? Rocks may be hard, and sponges may be soft, but both have pockets of empty space. Surprised? It may be easier to see the pockets in sponges since most sponges are covered with holes, but if you toss a pumice stone in water, it will float—because it has many pockets of empty space, just like a sponge!

Some rocks are more like a sponge than others though. It depends on their porosity.

Porosity is the word we use to talk about the volume of empty space in an object compared to the total volume of the object. When the particles of a rock are small, they may be packed together closely with very little space between them. Such a rock is defined as not very porous. When the particles of a rock are large, there may be more space between them because they don't fit together as tightly. This makes the rock more porous.


Science Activities Mean Fun for the Whole Family

Porosity is a concept that may be hard to imagine, but with the quick and easy How Particles Affect Porosity science activity, students can make a model of a rock to observe firsthand what porosity means and how it works.

That's what Sherry Smith, a Science Buddies mom, decided to do when she was looking for a fun science activity that would appeal to both her 10-year-old daughter and 4-year-old nephew.

"Both of the kids are interested in rocks, and the techniques of Science Buddies' porosity activity seemed fairly simple," said Sherry, "so I thought it would work with my young nephew."

To build their model, the kids filled one plastic container with large dried beans and another plastic container with small dried beans. In the project, the different-sized beans represent different sizes of rock particles. Each container becomes a model for a "rock." The next step for Sherry and her students was to carefully measure how much water they could pour into each container. Which model rock holds more water? Why?

On their first try, some of the water spilled, says Sherry, so they had to start over, but in the end, their experiment was a success. The kids were able to see how the difference in the porosity of each model rock made a difference in how much water each cup held.


Learning on Different Levels

Overall, Sherry thinks that the porosity project is a great way for kids of different ages to share a memorable science experience. "While my nephew perhaps had trouble understanding that the beans were modeling porosity, he enjoyed acting like a 'real scientist' and was very careful pouring the water on the second try."

Sherry's daughter, on the other hand, was able to connect the concept of porosity to what she had learned about the rock cycle in school, particularly that the porosity of a rock can change over time due to pressure.


Modeling Rocks in the Classroom

Like Sherry and her family, students and families can experiment with porosity using the procedure in the How Particles Affect Porosity classroom science activity. Teachers looking to replicate this hands-on geology experiment in the classroom will find step-by-step guidance, including downloadable educator and student guides. The activity only takes about twenty minutes, including teacher prep time, and lets students explore how and why some rocks really soak up liquid while others do not.

Check out Science Buddies' new Science Activities for All Ages area to discover more fun science experiments and activities for the whole family! Teachers can also browse additional classroom activities.


A Deeper Look at Porosity

Students looking for a geology science fair project related to rocks can continue the exploration with the Porosity and Particle Size project idea.





Support for Geology resources and Project Ideas at Science Buddies is provided by Chevron.

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Finding ways to improve a product often means breaking it first and then brainstorming ways to make the product better so that it will last longer. Students can experiment with the engineering design process—and the ways in which engineers design and test new solutions—by trying to improve the durability of a simple handheld device. Making a calculator ironclad might make it harder to break, but would a customer like the new-and-improved version?

Calculators after crash testing during science and engineering project
Above: A device may show various kinds of damage after being put through various kinds of product testing. Testing may help engineers find ways to improve a product's design and durability.

Have you ever seen an advertisement for a product that brags about the fact that it is so strong that you can even drive a car over it, and it will still work? You might wonder why the product would ever be at risk of being rolled over by a car, but such a claim is meant to highlight an important selling point for many products—durability. How much wear and tear can an item withstand? For consumers, this is an important question. When it comes to buying certain kinds of products and devices, like electronics, customers want a product that will last because the longer it lasts, the better value it may prove to be.


Finding the Breaking Point

Making something better sometimes depends on first seeing what it takes to break, tear, or destroy an object.

Autodesk DigitalSTEAM Workshop mobile accessory challenge

Designing a Mobile Accessory

Students interested in designing protective cases can take this project a different direction by using 3D design software from Autodesk. The Mobile phone accessory project in the Digital STEAM Workshop challenges students to bring their ideas about phone accessories into reality using Autodesk® 123D® Design. Students are challenged to design an accessory small enough to fit into a person's pocket and made from plastic. What phone gadget, tool, or accessory can you envision that you think people would love to have for their phones?

Using 123D Design, students digitally design an accessory that can be made using additive manufacturing, the process used in 3D printing. For additional information about 3D printing, see 3D Modeling Layer by Layer: A Glue It Together Introduction to 3D Printing.


Premier Design Tools for Educational Use

Autodesk gives students, educators, and educational institutions free access to professional design software, creativity apps, and real-world projects. For more information, details about educational use, and to download software, visit the Autodesk Education Community.

If you try the mobile phone accessory Autodesk Digital STEAM Workshop challenge, show us the accessory you design!

It may sound counterintuitive, but for product engineers, finding ways to improve an item in terms of its durability often means first identifying weak spots. After she knows where the potential pitfalls are—What could happen? Where will it break? What kind of stressor or use is too much?—a product engineer brainstorms possible solutions, makes prototypes, and puts these new versions through use tests to see if the modifications bring improvement.

Does the improved product bring corresponding and measurable improvements in terms of durability? Do the changes add to the price of the product? Do the improvements change the size (footprint) or appearance of the product? Are the changes ones customers will like in terms of visual appearance as well as in terms of the added protection? All of these are questions a product engineer has to consider when trying to improve an item.

Cell phones are a great example of a device where durability matters. Because they are always with us, cell phones are often subjected to lots of bumps, accidental drops, spills, and even dunks. Whether the phone falls to the concrete when you get out of the car, drops to a hard floor, or gets crunched between hard objects, you hope that the phone comes out unscathed.

In the past, cell phones have not always held up well, but today a dropped phone doesn't always equal death of the phone. Hopefully, improvements in the design and manufacturing of the type of cell phone you carry have given it a stronger profile—added durability.


Putting Engineering Design in Action

In the new Crash! Can Cell Phones Survive a Drop Test? project idea, students get hands-on with the engineering design process as they simulate the steps that might go into improving a product like a cell phone.

While a science fair project that tests and then improves actual cell phones might be cool, crash testing a bunch of cell phones is not practical for most students. Using inexpensive calculators instead keeps project costs down but still lets students model the steps involved in product testing and development. How durable is a cheap calculator? Can it be improved, and is the improvement worthwhile in terms of the form factor and price of the device?

Students first put calculators to a drop test to assess (and quantify) starting durability. Then, they brainstorm design changes to try and address weaknesses they observed during their drop tests. After making prototypes of their new and improved products, students put the new models to the same drop test to see if the design changes made a difference.

What kinds of changes might you make to better protect the calculator from drop zone damage? Changes in materials are up to the student product engineer, so bring your creativity, your innovative ideas, and your willingness to crash test a bunch of calculators!


A Career in Product Engineering

Students who enjoy the idea of creating and improving products—and even breaking them first on purpose to pinpoint areas of weakness and figure out what might be fixed or improved—may enjoy learning more about product engineering as a career path. The following career profiles highlight career options for a student with an interest in building and engineering: Industrial Engineer, Mechanical Engineer, and Materials Scientist and Engineer.


Science Buddies Project Ideas in mechanical engineering are supported, in part, by Motorola Solutions Foundation.



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Melting Ice: Weekly Science Activity


Melting ice chemistry science activity / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a chemistry family science experiment that explores how different substances may lower the freezing point of ice. By adding sand, sugar, and salt (separately) to ice, students observe how long it takes the ice to melt. Do any of these substances make the ice melt more quickly than it does by itself? In this family science activity, you can find out—and find out why. Follow this experiment up with the Science Buddies activity on making homemade ice cream for a tasty, related science add-on! In one project, you will melt the ice. In the other, you'll be working to make things colder!




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For families living in drought conditions, careful monitoring of water usage is especially important. With hands-on science and engineering projects, students can investigate water-saving strategies and science and engineering related to water conservation.

Folsom lake drought 2014
Above: The effect of drought can be seen in the above photo of Folsom Lake. Image: California Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey.

Remember "Ring around the rosie" and "Rain, rain, go away"? Familiar with the "jinx machine" saying? You may recall these singsong chants from your own childhood or from watching your students on the schoolyard. Kids grow up repeating lots of songs and fun sayings—rhymes that, for better or worse, stick.

Today's California kids have added a new one to their repertoire—"If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." It's catchy and a bit gross. It's got all the markings of classic potty talk. But these kids are talking about flushing strategies at school—in the name of water conservation.

When my elementary school student came home last year spouting "if it's yellow," it was new to me. It was a startling rhyme, but it does stick with you. As California's drought continued to worsen and the threat of a real water crisis grew, I started thinking more about the saying and discovered it is actually more than playground potty talk. As one strategy for helping reduce consumer water usage, the "if it's yellow" approach may have statistical merit.

Today, California's drought situation has gotten even drier, so much so that the state will soon be fining consumers for certain kinds of unnecessary water usage. Washing cars, spraying off sidewalks, and watering plants are all culprits for excess water usage. You probably won't find kids running through a free-flowing sprinkler system this summer in many California neighborhoods either.

Smart family water practices, like smart family electricity practices, can make a difference. Beyond flushing, there are lots of drips and drops of water in a typical day that the average family could save, and small-scale, house-by-house changes can add up to significant savings.


Water-saving Science

The threat of running out of water may seem distant and hard to fathom, but scientists are predicting California's drought is far from over. As families and schools talk with students about water conservation, it is important to think about household practices. Even tweaking simple routines like brushing teeth can make a difference. Do you leave the water on when you brush your teeth? How much water might you save if you turned it off while brushing and then turned it back on at the end?

These kinds of questions can lead to fun, informal science investigations at home or school and pose engaging real-world math problems for kids to work through. Collect the water during a normal teeth brushing session and measure it. Then collect the water during a session where the water is turned off during most of the two minutes of brushing and measure it. Multiply the amounts by the number of times a day each person in the house brushes. Multiply those numbers by days and then weeks.

Map of US drought 2014 July

Innovative Engineering and Design

California's water crisis is mounting, but California is not alone in its water shortage. The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows that roughly a third of the country is currently experiencing some level of drought.

As everyone from state officials to families to local farmers look for new approaches to improve water usage efficiency, stories of innovative solutions highlight the ways in which applied engineering and technology can make a difference at home and around the world. For example, in May, NPR reported on an unusual bamboo structure called the WarkaWater designed to gather water from the air.

You can keep extrapolating by multiplying by households or city populations. How do the numbers compare? Then do some research to give those numbers real-world meaning. You might compare how many gallons of water your toilet uses per flush, for example, to the water being used brushing teeth. How do baths and showers compare?

As you and your kids take a closer look at how you use water in the house, think about things like indoor plants, running the dishwasher, rinsing dishes, washing clothes, filling the coffee pot, boiling pasta, and making ice. How much water do you really use? How many times is the water running unnecessarily or for longer than it should? Is there anyway to capture and reuse some of the household water that is otherwise wasted?

The following science and engineering projects guide students in thinking about and exploring different aspects of water conservation and drought:

For more information about strategies you can use at home, see the Save Our Water site's collection of tips for indoor and outdoor water conservation.


Making Connections

Students in California (and in many other places in the U.S.) are hearing a lot about drought, but water is still available. In some areas around the world, access to water is even more seriously limited. Exploring water conservation, filtration, and decontamination strategies through hands-on science projects helps students better understand local and global water supply issues.

Projects ideas like these guide students in investigating strategies for decontaminating and desalinating water:

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Civil engineers work on all kinds of construction projects that help shape communities and cities and help solve problems and challenges in those areas. Sometimes, those challenges involve reconfiguring existing space in unexpected new ways, like turning parking places into parklets. These little green pockets of social space provide interesting challenges and opportunities for engineers, designers, and planners. With software from Autodesk and a fun Digital STEAM Workshop challenge, students can design their own parklets and see what is involved in reimagining a few parking spots as a gathering or resting spot—with a small budget and tight space requirements!


3868 24th Street Parklet (hosted by Martha Brothers)
Above: The 3868 24th Street Parklet (hosted by Martha Brothers) sits in place of a few parking spaces. Photo: San Francisco Planning Department.

Parking in San Francisco is rarely easy. A driver may circle a destination multiple times hoping to score a treasured meter space. A challenge to begin with, city parking is becoming even more difficult as parking spaces here and there are repurposed as social spaces.

Across the city, coveted parking spots have gradually been transformed into no-parking park zones—parking spaces for people, not cars. On a corner of Haight Street, for example, there is a small area of benches that looks like an extension of the sidewalk and juts right out almost into the street. At first glance, you might look over and see it as a little niche seating area, a little resting place, an extra spot to hang out and enjoy a scoop in a cone from the nearby Ben and Jerry's. Look just a bit closer as you pass, and you will realize that the seating area, the bit of green, sits where a few parking spaces formerly waited to eat up meter money.

It's the age of the parklet.


Exit Parking, Enter Parklet

In San Francisco, turning parking spots into social spots is a movement that has gained momentum and both community and city support. The Pavement-to-Parks site contains a section devoted to parklets, and an eighty-six-page PDF booklet describes the role of a parklet and the process of moving from idea to permit to implementation. The fun "Parklet-OMatic" game board-style infographic flowcharts the process from start to finish. Those finishing the process with a successful permit are instructed to "Keep it clean. Water the plants. Renew in one year."

According to the Parklet Manual, a parklet that stands in the place of extra parking spaces may support and foster social consciousness, lifestyle and behavior, and city change. A parklet, says the manual, can help: reimagine the potential of city streets, encourage pedestrian activity, encourage non-motorized transportation, foster neighborhood interaction, and support local businesses.

Despite the tighter parking scene, the city loves parklets, and there is currently a waiting list for parklet applications.


The Parklet Phenomenon

While the origin of the parklet may lead back to San Francisco and a one-day temporary parklet experiment, the city is not alone in its interest in reclaiming pavement for people. Chicago calls these little spaces carved into the city "people spots." Seattle, too, has its own government parklet page, with a dotted map of existing or proposed parklets that looks like a transit map.

Whether you view them as small injections of green into a cityscape, a subtle reminder to slow down, or just an ingenious way to make the quest for parking even tighter, parklets are a fascinating societal phenomena and example of civil engineering.

While parklets vary in terms of their overall "flavor" or vibe, they typically follow certain requirements. Size, especially, is key. A true parklet replaces a few parking spaces, so sizing parameters are tight. There is not a lot of wiggle room. Location, too, matters. As San Francisco's Parklet Manual makes clear, there are a number of criteria for selecting a location for a proposed parklet. (You can't just plop a parklet into any parking space.)

Cost is also a factor.


A Perfect Parklet

What kind of parklet do you envision? Do you imagine wooden benches and planters? Do you see natural seating spaces or bright umbrellas and canopies? How do you think people will use the space? Will they sit and talk? Will they meet up for a game of street chess? Will people eat their lunch?

The design of a parklet will play into how the space is used and what kinds of activities and interactions it invites. Multi-use structures, for instance, might facilitate eating as well as provide a surface for other activities. How will you fill the space?

Imagining how you will "decorate" a parklet is part of the fun of the process. But there are many stages of planning and consideration that happen before you can move benches into place.

After choosing a location, one of the first steps is doing a site plan for the parklet. The plan needs to account for the footprint of the parklet (its size and shape rather than its contents) as well as the surrounding parking spaces, street traffic flow, and buildings. Later, designers work on drawings or computer renderings that show what the parklet looks like, including approaches to the foundation, the enclosure (remember, the parklet may be right next to moving traffic), and the cool things that will give the parklet its unique flavor and feel.

So what would you do if you could convert a few parking places in your own city into a parklet?


Experiment with Parklet Planning

Using Autodesk's AutoCAD software (free for student use with an educational license), students can design a parklet and experiment with a world-class computer-aided design (CAD) tool. The parklet challenge on the Autodesk Digital STEAM Workshop site puts students in the middle of city planning—on a very small scale...the size of a few parking spaces.

In the challenge, students are given parameters they must meet as they create their parklet solutions. Starter files are provided, and students can further explore the challenge through a set of real-world videos that follow a designer through the process of brainstorming, planning, and testing a solution. These videos help students see steps of the engineering design process in action. (See the Engineering Design Process guide at Science Buddies for more information on the engineering method and design process.)

After creating a parklet design for the challenge, students can upload it to share and show it off to the Digital STEAM Workshop community. Who knows, your parklet design might be one you want to share with your city, too!


Premier Design Tools for Educational Use

Autodesk gives students, educators, and educational institutions free access to professional design software, creativity apps, and real-world projects. For more information, details about education use, and to download software, visit the Autodesk Education Community.


What Will You Make?

If you are already a user of Autodesk software, we would love to hear from you! If you take the Autodesk Parklet challenge, please let us know. We would love to see what you build, design, and explore using Autodesk design tools. Show us your parklet!

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As the number of medications, both over-the-counter and prescribed, continues to rise, pharmacists play an increasingly powerful role in helping ensure patient wellbeing, safety, and quality of life. Is the medication you were prescribed safe for you? Beyond an apple a day, feeling better may require advice from a pharmacist!

2014-blog-pharmacist-bottles.png

Whether you need an antibiotic to help fight an infection, powerful cough syrup, insulin, or another doctor-ordered medication, when it is time to pick up your prescription, you probably head to a local pharmacy. Your pharmacy may be a neighborhood business, a branch of a drugstore chain, or a pharmacy nestled inside a large grocery store. Your pharmacy may even have a convenient drive-through or a vault from which you pick up your medicine without waiting in line, or maybe your pharmacy offers 24-hour service.

Regardless of where your pharmacy is or how you pick up your medications, the person who filled your prescription—counted out or measured the quantity—is a pharmacist. Someone else may ring you up. Someone else may have taken the prescription from you when you dropped it off. But the pharmacist is the one ultimately responsible for ensuring you receive the right medicine, the right strength, and the right quantity, all matching up to your doctor's orders.


Recognizing Patients as Individuals

It is easy to think of being a pharmacist as simply a job of shuffling pills into safety-lock bottles, but pharmacists do much more than that. Pharmacists also help patients understand how to take a new medicine and warn them of possible side effects. Pharmacists also answer questions about generic versus non-generic medications and changes in medications. If a pill changes size, shape, or color, your pharmacist may tell you before you even have a chance to notice. Pharmacists need to know as much as possible about a vast number of available medications. But pharmacists also need to know you—an individual patient.

Just because a doctor prescribes a medicine to treat a specific problem doesn't mean it is the right medicine (or dosage) for a patient. Every patient is different. Each patient has her own medical history and medication history. Before a prescription is filled, a pharmacist may catch a problem with the prescription or with the combination of the prescription and a specific patient's health history. Computer profiles help flag possible problems, but pharmacists are the ones who talk directly with patients to explain any possible problems and relieve any concerns.


Safeguarding Patient Health

A recent NPR story covered the emergency department of a children's hospital in Dallas, TX, where pharmacists work, around the clock, to ensure the accuracy of prescriptions being made to treat patients. This kind of safety net may help decrease prescription-related problems, problems that reportedly cause thousands of deaths each year.

In an emergency room setting, pharmacists can make a tremendous difference, but even beyond critical care and emergency department scenarios, pharmacists are predicted to play an increasingly important role in day-to-day healthcare. Variables like increased life expectancy, increased preventative healthcare services, increased number of people with chronic conditions, increasing numbers of available prescription drugs, changing medical insurance policies and ongoing changes in prescription coverage, and ever-increasing medical knowledge put the pharmacist in a pivotal position between the prescribing doctor and the patient—a position where precision and accuracy must go hand in hand with an ability to synthesize pharmaceutical information, spot potential big-picture issues and complications, and convey necessary information to patients.


Making Connections

Students interested in human health and biology, medical biotechnology, and medicine, can explore science questions related to health issues and medications in science projects like these:

To learn more about the educational requirements, daily tasks, work environment, and career outlook for pharmacists, see the Pharmacist career profile, part of Science Buddies's science careers area.





Support for Science Buddies Career Profiles in chemistry-related fields provided by Astellas USA Foundation.


2014-blog-pharmacist-bottles-300x150.png

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Seeing Is (Not Always) Believing!


Visual illusions and other optical puzzles are fun for families to share and explore. With hands-on science projects and activities, students can create and test their own visual illusions. For more advanced exploration, a new electronics science project guides students in creating a mesmerizing infinity mirror that invites viewers to gaze into a seemingly infinite tunnel lit by a series of lights.

Visual illusion - Kanizsa Triangle
Image: Wikipedia.

How many triangles appear in the image above? The correct answer is zero, but your brain probably perceives several triangles because your brain is filling in information that is not actually present. Your brain is "interpreting" the image as a whole, despite what your eyes are actually "seeing." You probably see a white triangle atop of what you assume is a black outlined triangle. You may also argue there are other clear smaller triangles within the image as well! But this image, known as a Kanizsa Triangle, contains no triangles at all.

The Kanizsa Triangle is comprised of three "v" shapes and three "Pacman"-style, open-mouth shapes. The white triangle seemingly formed by the negative space is something our brain interprets even though it isn't drawn into the image. In fact, the "white" of that central triangle flows unimpeded into the white of the background. There is no defined triangle—other than the one our brain perceives.

The visual illusion created by the Kanizsa Triangle is one of a number of types of perceptual illusions, and, like sleights of hand that a magician might perform, visual or optical illusions are fun because they trick the eye and challenge us to understand how our eyes and brain work together.

How many dark dots appear in the following image?

Visual illusion -- Hermann Grid
Image: Wikipedia.

Did you have trouble isolating or counting the dark dots? The above image is a grid illusion, specifically a Hermann grid illusion. You will find similar versions with more boxes and more dots, but the problem of counting the dark dots remains because as your eye moves around the image, the dark dots seem to shift. In fact, there are no dark dots at all in this type of grid illusion, just white lines on a black field.

Visual illusions are engaging puzzles because they tease the brain. The brain and the eye don't agree about what they are seeing or how to interpret the information. Do you see an old woman or a young one? Do you see a rabbit or a duck? Do you see two vases or a face? In some types of visual illusion, you may see more than one image, your brain bouncing back and forth between possible interpretations as your focus shifts.

There are countless visual illusions to explore, and delving into the "why" we see (or think we see) what we see is a great way to learn more about the eye, the brain, and human biology and neurology.


Making Connections

Students and families can explore visual illusions with the Afterimages: The Colorful Tricks Eyes Play science activity. The activity, a simplified version of a longer, independent science project, helps students explore what happens when you stare at blocks of color for a long time, effectively fatiguing color-receptive cones in the eye. Better than a game of who can not blink for the longest amount of time, this fun science exploration challenges you to stare at something for a set amount of time.

Infinity Mirror Student Electronics Science Project

An Endless Tunnel?

How many LEDs do you think are used in the construction of the infinity mirror shown above? How deep do you think the infinity mirror is? You might be surprised! Get answers to these questions by making your own infinity mirror in the Explore Optical Illusions science project.

If you can do it without blinking, you may see something that isn't really there!

To explore other ways to experiment with afterimages, including combining fun computer programming tools and environments, like Scratch, see A Trick of the Eye for Halloween. A classroom-friendly exploration of afterimages is also available, complete with educator and student materials.


Electronics Fun with Illusions

While many familiar visual illusions are flat renderings designed to be viewed on paper (or on a screen), with a bit of creativity and electronics know-how, you can create cool dimensional optical illusions that will further challenge viewers to understand what they are really seeing. In a mirror at a carnival, for instance, you may appear either shorter or taller, or thinner or wider, than you really are. Or, you might wander through a fun house room of mirrors, looking for a way out.

A new electronics engineering project at Science Buddies guides students in creating an infinity mirror. In the Explore Optical Illusions: Build an Infinity Mirror project, students design and construct an infinity mirror from a cardboard box, a set of LEDs, and two mirrors. When activated, a viewer looking into the mirror will see what appears to be an infinitely long tunnel, a lit tunnel stretching far into the distance of the box. But the box is really just a shallow box!

Creating your own LED infinity mirror is a fun DIY electronics project. In the end, you will have a light-up optical illusion that will amaze friends and family!


Award-winning Optical Illusions

For more fun with visual illusions, check out the Dynamic Ebbinghaus visual illusion, the winning entry in this year's Best Illusion of the Year Contest. You can view all 10 finalists from this year's contest on the contest site. It is fun to look at the visual illusions and to read the descriptions that accompany each. Some of these are real eye puzzles!


Further Reading

For more information about visual illusions and other great examples, see:

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Sauces and marinades kitchen and food science experiment  / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a food sciences family science experiment that investigates the way different ingredients make a difference in how well a marinade sticks to food. In this science activity, students simulate the process of soaking a food in a marinade by doing a controlled study with tofu, food dye, and four different ingredients that might be found in a marinade recipe. Setting up a set of standards for what the tofu looks like when soaked in different levels of dye concentration makes it easy to evaluate how well the test marinades made with different ingredients stick to the tofu. Based on this kitchen chemistry experiment, cooks of all ages can make more scientific decisions about how to best mix up a marinade or tweak a favorite recipe for even more sticking flavor!


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Many popular video games involve aspects of city planning. Whether nurturing a small village or populating and running a sprawling city, kids can experiment with city planning on a variety of levels, from ensuring available resources to strategically positioning city protection. A fun SimCity science project from Science Buddies helps turn in-game city planning into a science experiment, one students can also use to enter the annual Future City competition.

2014-blog-simcity-suburbs.gif
Above: A "suburbs" image from a city created in SimCity.

City planning. As a kid, I don't think I gave much thought to city planning, urban design, and civil engineering. I was wowed by whatever local structures, landmarks, or skyscraping architecture I passed by or saw when on vacation, but, growing up in a small town, the intricacies of city planning were not on my radar.


Since then, having lived in and visited cities of all sizes, I have comes to appreciate and marvel especially at the networks of roadways and transportation paths that snake through and around metropolitan cities. Road planning fascinates me. But there is a lot more that goes into city planning than just streets and highways. Civil engineers work on transportation systems, but they also work on energy and water systems and all kinds of buildings and construction projects both for business and residential use.


Video Games and Virtual Cities

SimCity, a computer game devoted to virtual city building, first appeared in 1989. The popularity of the game led to several iterations and versions of the game. You may have missed the height of the SimCity craze back in the 1990s, but video game-based city planning and world building has continued to evolve and reappear as a theme and challenge in lots of games, including computer games, console games, mobile apps, and games integrated in social networks like Facebook.

Clash of Clans village planning and design
Above: In Clash of Clans, a popular mobile game, players design their village (or base) using an in-game editor and positioning elements to best protect their resources.


Whether set on a farm, medieval times, the present day, or in the future, many games rely on creative and strategic world building. Sometimes, games pegged as something else, especially tower-defense games, have a large element of world building. This plays out in different ways, depending on the game.

In some games, you grow a city by buying and upgrading things like housing, farms, mines, and social structures.

Autodesk Digital STEAM Workshop park challenge

Experiment with Planning City Spaces this Summer with Autodesk Online Challenges!

Two creative challenges on the Autodesk Digital STEAM Workshop encourage students to explore elements of city planning using computer-assisted design tools to design city parks. The Shape: Small Park Design challenge invites beginning designers to use Autodesk SketchBook Express to mock up a small city park that fits within a set of design and cost parameters.

The Urban Park challenge offers a more robust activity for intermediate students ready to experiment with a number of tools from Autodesk's software suite. Using Autodesk AutoCAD, Autodesk Maya, Autodesk Revit, and Autodesk Inventor, students work on a park design that will appeal to a wide range of ages, uses recycled materials where possible, does not exceed 3,600 square feet, and falls within a given budget for construction.


Premier Design Tools for Educational Use

Autodesk gives students, educators, and educational institutions free access to professional design software, creativity apps, and real-world projects. For more information, details about educational use, and to download software, visit the Autodesk Education Community.


What Will You Make?

If you are already a user of Autodesk software, we would love to hear from you! If you try one of these park planning Autodesk Digital STEAM Workshop challenges, let us know how it goes!
You may also be responsible for setting the taxes and making other decisions that are integral to how the city grows and functions. In some games, you have to build and upgrade social buildings in proportion to work spaces and residential housing in order to keep the city in balance, the residents happy, and the gold flowing.

In other games, you design a base or village, a lot like a small city, but you don't have to deal with the essentials of survival (food and shelter) or with ensuring the happiness of residents. Designing a sustainable base that is properly defended and laid out in ways that successfully ward off attack from the outside may be a central element of game play, however, equal in importance to conducting raids, gathering more resources (either by harvesting or looting), and making decisions about what to upgrade and how to grow and evolve the base to higher levels.

The pervasive popularity of Minecraft and the countless maps and worlds available for players to visit epitomizes the appeal of world building in the video game space—and highlights keen interest in world building among younger players and students, too. In the open-ended Minecraft game, you can play the game as an explorer of a map created by someone else, maybe a map in which survival is the key, or you can play creatively and build your own world, block by block. (After you finish designing a map, you can make it available for other players to explore.) In survival mode, you need to first build a work bench (so you can get tools) and then build a house so you have somewhere to sleep at night to protect you from the zombies, skeletons, creepers, and spiders. But in creative mode, your imagination is the limit, and using a range of available blocks (including command blocks that can be programmed to do specific things), you can build a house, a town, a city, or a full world.

If you enjoy games that encourage creative in-game design or enjoy rearranging your in-game village over and over again, either for the creative fun of it or in response to things going wrong (losing against attacks, for example), you may want to take the idea to the next level and explore city planning as a career path or experiment with city planning for fun or for your next science fair project.


Making Science Fair Connections

In the To Infinity and Beyond: Plan a City of the Future with Sim City. science project, students use Sim City to design a city for a future population of 50,000 or more people. Designing the city of your dreams may sound like a lot of fun, but students may quickly find out what lots of city officials know—it can be hard to keep everyone happy!

Using tools in the project, students test and evaluate the success of their cities and make changes to better understand how various aspects of city planning work together to create a successful city—one people want to live in!

Part of the Sim City science project involves surveying friends and family to find out what elements they really want and care about in a city. To learn more about setting up and using surveys as part of a science project, see the Designing a Survey and Sample Size: How Many Survey Participants Do I Need? resources from the Science Buddies Project Guide.


Making Connections

The To Infinity and Beyond project ties in with the annual Future City competition, so spending time with Sim City this summer and translating your ideas about a perfect city into a computer simulation may be the first step into next year's science project or a first step on the way to Future City.


Motorola Solutions Foundation, a sponsor of the Future City competition,
is a supporting sponsor of Science Buddies.




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As this year's Tour de France rolls into view, students can take an inside look at the science involved in successful road racing. What do gears and tires have to do with who wins the premiere race—or how long it takes to ride to the corner store? Find out with hands-on sports science projects that help tie science to the sports kids love to do and watch. This is pedal-power science that requires you to hop on a bike and put mechanical engineering in action!

2014 Tour de france map

Above: map of this year's Tour de France. For full route and stage information, see the Tour de France website.

Exercise and the Body

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for most people, but long and strenuous endurance events like the Tour de France (spread over many days) or a marathon can be a real challenge for athletes in terms of training, health, and nutrition. Students can explore how exercise impacts the body in health and human biology projects like these:

Drink of Athletes

Before, during, and after exercise and competition, athletes often choose foods and drinks to help balance their nutrition and improve their performance.

In the Electrolyte Challenge project, students investigate the difference in electrolyte content of sports drinks and orange juice. What drink should an athlete choose to help replenish lost electrolytes? A convenient kit of specialty items for the project is available from the Science Buddies Store.

In Lactose, Sucrose, and Glucose: How Many Sugars are in Your Smoothie?, students investigate how digestive enzymes convert sucrose and lactose into glucose to better understand how different kinds of sugar in smoothies may affect blood sugar. If you need a boost of energy before a sporting event, how might you alter your smoothie recipe? What if you want your smoothie to give you sustained energy?

Last year, Christopher Froome (Team Sky) won the 2013 Tour de France after coming in second in 2012 to his teammate Bradley Wiggins. This year, Froome will defend his title, again riding as part of Team Sky.

For bicycle racing enthusiasts and fans, the Tour de France is one of the premier sporting events of the year, the pinnacle of competitive cycling for many riders. The 21-stage race runs from Saturday, July 5 to Sunday, July 27 2014. Riders in this year's 101th a challenging combination of flat, hill, and mountain stages and will ride more than 3,500 kilometers through Leeds, Harrogate, York, Sheffield, Cambridge, Ypres, Oyonnax, Risoul, and Maubourguet Pays du Val d'Adour.


Making Connections

As the race gets underway and the cyclists begin their 3-week journey, students and families can learn more about the ways in which science can help explain certain aspects of successful cycling. The following sports science projects address elements of bike mechanics, mechanical engineering, and applied physics that will come into play as riders tackle the varying terrains and altitudes of this year's Tour de France stages.

  • How Do Under-Inflated Tires Affect the Difficulty of Riding a Bike?: During a race like the Tour de France, riders may ride with varying tire pressure (psi) amounts based on the stage of the ride and the weather conditions. In this sports science project, students explore how tire pressure relates to the way a bike rides. What does how full a tire is have to do with air resistance of the bike wheel as it rolls over the ground? Attach a spring scale to a bike, grab a tire pump, and find out. This project requires one person on the bike and one to pull it along, so grab a friend or sibling to sit on the bike!
  • Jack and Jill Went Up a Hill and Came Biking Down After: Choosing the Best Gear Ratio for Speed: Learning to properly use and shift between gears on a multi-gear (or multi-speed) bike can be one of the biggest challenges of transitioning to a more advanced bike. But for race cyclists, understanding how gears relate to speed, control, and the elevation and curve of the road is a must. In this science project, students experiment with gear ratios on their bikes by riding a set path over and over using different gear ratios and recording the speed of each ride. Riders may feel the difference a gear ratio change makes during a ride, but this project guides students in gathering scientific data that correlates gear ratio and speed on the path. Bikers can try the same project steps with a different path, one with a slight hill, for example, for even greater understanding of gears.

Learning more about the science involved in how a bike works and rides can make for interesting family discussion as the Tour de France takes place. These kinds of hands-on sports science investigations can also make your student a better rider—even just in the neighborhood!


Winning Speeds

Sports fans watching the Tour de France or other sporting events from home that involve being "fastest" to win can learn more about figuring speed in the Speed Quest project. For summer fun, students can use the basic parameters of the project to time and compare their own speeds in certain favorite sports (like bike riding) to speeds of world record holders or participants in a race like the Tour de France. How fast are you, really? (This is a great activity for encouraging students to put math skills to use this summer, too!)


Cyclists Raising Diabetes Awareness

For another look at pro cycling, see Changing Diabetes: A Pro Cycling Team with a Mission. Team Novo Nordisk is a cycling team comprised of riders who all have Type 1 Diabetes. See also, From a Boy on a Bike to a Catalyst for Diabetes Inspiration, Education, and Change, about Phil Southerland, founder of Team Novo Nordisk and author of Not Dead Yet: My Race Against Disease: From Diagnosis to Dominance.





Science Buddies' Sports Science Project Ideas are sponsored by Time Warner Cable.
Science Buddies Project Ideas that support student exploration of diabetes and other global health issues like hemophilia and nutrition are sponsored by Novo Nordisk.

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When you combine your circuitry know-how with fabric, you can, literally, wear your electronics on your sleeve.

Red, white, and blue monster soft circuit patch
Above: this little monster is a fun and kid-friendly electronic textile patch that lights up red, white, and blue!

There will be plenty of loud, booming, and colorful nighttime celebrations for this week's 4th of July. Even before the sun goes down, the sounds of fireworks begin, sometimes starting days in advance of the official holiday. The Discover the Flaming Colors of Fireworks family science activity is a great way to get hands-on with a science investigation that helps kids hook science to the anticipated fireworks finale, but you don't have to set something on fire to create a portable burst of celebratory color and light!

While you wait for your local Independence Day fireworks display to start, you (and your kids) can create your own red, white, and blue light-up display, one you can wear, wave, or carry. With a needle, some conductive thread, and a few electronics parts, you can sew your own lighted soft circuit to show off your national pride.

The LED Dance Glove project guides students in creating an introductory soft circuit. Also known as a wearable textile, electronic textile, or e-textile, this kind of fabric- and thread-based electronics project approaches wiring and circuitry from a new—softer—angle. Sew the components in place, being careful not to cross threads and keeping positive and negative traces separate, and you can add electronics to clothing or other fabric items.

The glove in the project can be used to create cool light effects in the dark. (See the project background information to learn more about competitions involving LED glove light shows!) Change things up a bit, and you can create your own gloves for the 4th of July using a combination of red, white, and blue LEDs or white gloves. Or, use the same general e-textiles approach and add an LED soft circuit to a backpack, a jacket, wrist band, or hat.

The LED Dance Glove project at Science Buddies features a simple circuit with an on and off switch, a coin cell battery holder, and some Lilypad LEDs. The project requires no programming (the lights are either flipped on or off), so the project is a great first step in designing and sewing wearable electronics. Sew the elements of the circuit in place, flip the switch, and wear your science with pride!

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What variables make a game popular with players, and do boys and girls choose different types of games? Design a survey-based science project this summer and do some statistical analysis of the data you gather. Your results might be eye opening and informative in terms of game design, the gaming industry, and what works and what doesn't depending on the audience.

Boys and girls and video games / Student science project



There are only three girls, as far as I know, in the clan in one of my current favorite games. With a staggering more than seventy-five thousand clans floating around in the game, and hundreds of thousands of players around the world, clan members come and go. A few other self-identified female players have pitstopped in our clan before moving on, but three of us have been clan members for a long time and seem to be staying—three out of a clan that typically weighs in right around the max of fifty players.

That simple statistic—3 out of 50—seems revealing. It seems to support gender stereotypes about who plays video games. But there are other variables to consider. Age and location, for example, throw a possible wrench into the picture. Our clan is global. Twenty-four hours a day there are people in our clan online from all around the world, and there are players of all ages, a strong mix, in fact, of adults, teens, and even younger players. How old might you guess the three girls are? Where do they live? Do age and location have anything to do with which games boys and girls play?

Minecraft skin

Who is the Hero?

In a game like Angry Birds, the gamer remains off screen. You pull the slingshot, but your identity is not part of the game. What matters is what happens between the birds and pigs in response to your aim and launch. In games where players appear on screen as a visible protagonist, choosing between available characters—or enabling customization of one's avatar—is a common game element. Minecraft players, for examples, create and change "skins" to control the appearance of their character (like the one shown above).

In story-based games, however, players often take on the role of a predetermined main character, a protagonist who appears in video cutscenes as well as in game play. Some story-based games offer a choice of playable characters, but many do not. Does the gender of the playable character make a difference in terms of who buys and plays a game?

Discussion and speculation surrounding previews of new Zelda, Halo, and Assasin's Creed titles suggest that the gender of playable characters is, indeed, a big deal for many gamers.

Conducting survey-based science research projects like Do Males and Females Play the Same Types of Games? and Gamers: Myth or Man? can help you better analyze today's gaming scene and make some predictions about the future of game development and design.


Survey Says

To learn more about setting up and using surveys as part of a science project, see the Designing a Survey and Sample Size: How Many Survey Participants Do I Need? resources from the Science Buddies Project Guide.

To view more science project ideas like the ones discussed here, see the Video and Computer Game section at Science Buddies.

In other games I play, the balance of male to female players appears more equal or, in some cases, maybe tilted to the "more girls" side. Who plays Words with Friends? Who plays Candy Crush? Who plays Hay Day or Farmville? Who plays Infinity Blade? Who plays Final Fantasy or Elder Scrolls? Who plays Temple Run or Subway Surfer? Who plays Minecraft or Wizard 101? Who plays Pokémon, Zelda, Uncharted, or Assasin's Creed?

Or maybe we need to step back and ask, what kinds of games are those listed above—and does that have anything to do with who plays them?


Games, Games, Everywhere

As an adult gamer, "who plays games" and "what games do they play" is an interesting social puzzle. As a parent of kids who also play video games, I find the gender dynamics fascinating. After all, kids today are kids growing up in an age saturated with video games, mobile apps, social media, and an always-on, always-connected, pervasive tech-based lifestyle and social reality.

I often ask my teen "do any of the girls you know play video games?" While most of the boys he knows do play video games, Minecraft, Terraria, and phone-based games like Clash of Clans topping the list in current popularity, his sense is that most of the girls do not. The ones that do appear to be on the fringe.

It can't be that clear cut. Or can it?

Is it really true that video gamers are still, by and large, male? Or is that stereotype outdated, wrong, and a real misreading of today's gaming scene? What does the type (or genre) of game have to do with the numbers of males and females who play? What trends can be found in different age groups, and how do those age groups compare to one another when you look at gender demographics?

These are great questions for a gamer to ask, and a clever gamer can turn questions like these into a really cool science project that does a study of human behavior, social trends, and the video gaming industry—and opens up opportunities for doing some impressive statistical analysis of the results.


Surveying the Gaming Scene

The Do Males and Females Play the Same Types of Games? science project offers a framework for designing and conducting a survey of gamers to see if girls and boys differ in the genre of games they choose.

With summer break here, you could do a social-media or text-based campaign to get friends (and their friends) involved in answering your survey. (While the project outlines a traditional paper-based survey, you might want to set up an electronic survey instead and run it through your social streams to cast a really broad net for responders. The more people who take the survey, the more data you have to help support your findings!)

Before you get started, be sure and really look at the games that are on top of the charts today. (Make sure you keep a list of your sources and the dates since top game lists change frequently.) What categories or genres of games do you want to ask about? The list of genres and example games in the project helps get you started, but you will want to spend time editing and adding to the list to make it really fit today's gaming scene. You might also want to create additional categories to study different platforms and the subcategories of games that appear on each platform. You may find that you want to ask about genres (as the project shows) but that you also want to ask about a bunch of specific games, since some games cross genre boundaries or defy easy classification.

There are lots of ways to customize and personalize a study like this, but summer is a great time to get started. You may be surprised at what you learn about gaming, gender, game genres, platforms and devices, and how people of different ages approach gaming. With a bit of data crunching down the road, you could crank out a large portion of next year's science fair project without leaving the couch this summer. (If you are thinking that far ahead, it might not hurt to drop your teacher an email first and let her know you are tackling a summer science survey that you hope to turn into your science fair project.)

We do advocate leaving the couch, but this kind of study makes it easy to combine something you love with something that can really shine a light on social trends. Not only can a project like this give you better insight into gaming and the personality and profile of gamers, but this kind of data is also critical for aspiring video game designers and developers. The more you understand people who play games, the better you can develop successful games that attract thousands and thousands of players and fans. (For a related science project that compares gamer stereotypes to real gamers, see Gamers: Myth or Man?.)

We would love to see the survey you create and hear about your experience with the project!



Note: assumptions above about the number of boys vs. girls in games the author plays are based on guessing from user names or avatar photos or based on things said during in-game conversations. Many players do use ambiguous names or adopt a different identity during game play.

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Nick and Tesla Explore Robotics


The science-savvy twins return in book two of the Nick and Tesla series. As their summer of intrigue and engineering continues, they find themselves in the middle of a small-town mystery and a bunch of robots. Along the way, they make their own—and you can, too!

Nick and Tesla Book 2: Robot Army Rampage

Fun with Robotics Engineering

Like many beginning robotics engineers, Nick and Tesla build their own robots using toothbrush heads. Follow along as they design their bots, try out the DIY build from the book, and continue the exploration with bristlebot projects from Science Buddies: Racing BristleBots: On Your Mark. Get Set. Go! and Build a Light-Tracking Robot Critter.

Book 2 in the Nick and Tesla series, Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery with Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build Yourself, picks up where the first book left off. Having solved the mystery surrounding the neighborhood mansion, Nick and Tesla have settled into their summer with their scientist uncle.

As Robot Army Rampage by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith (Quirk Books) opens, Nick is experimenting with a homemade volcano, Tesla is working on a rocket, and Uncle Newt is tweaking a compost-fueled vacuum, which (of course) explodes, creating a smelly mess that sends them all running from the house.

The action in Robot Army Rampage moves from Uncle Newt's neighborhood to the town of Half Moon Bay. Escaping the fumes from the compost explosion, the kids and Uncle Newt head for pizza and catch their first glimpse of what turns out to be a wave of robots that have quietly taken up residence in businesses on Main Street. Inspired, the kids head to the local electronics and hobby store for parts to make their own robots.

At the Wonder Hut, a few new players enter the story, including Dr. Hiroko Sakurai (a former scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory), a store employee, and a joystick-controlled robot modeled after the Curiosity Mars rover. Unfortunately, the shelves for robotics parts at the Wonder Hut are, mysteriously, empty.

With no new parts, the twins challenge each other to build a robot from what they can salvage out of their uncle's lab, and the robot engineering begins. Their first bots are also the first projects in the book that readers can make themselves—Nick's Do-It-Yourself PC Leftovers Wander-Bot and Tesla's Do-It-Yourself Semi-Invisible Bottle Bot. With coat hangers, an empty soda bottle, a cast-off fan from an old computer, and some basic hardware and electronics parts, readers can build their own bots and put them to the test.

Building and battling robots takes the kids' minds off of their parents (who have been mysteriously whisked to Uzbekistan), but when Tesla's bot is crushed under a set of bike wheels, a new mystery rolls in, and the story takes off.


Mystery on Main Street

The father of one of the neighborhood kids from book one owns a comic book store on Main Street. When a valuable collectible comic is stolen, the kids decide to try and help solve the case.

As the kids play detective, robots continue to appear in town and be interwoven in the story. Early in their investigation, Nick and Tesla decide to use robotic bugs to distract their first suspect. Again, the siblings have different ideas about the design of the bugs. One wants to use LED eyes. The other wants to incorporate grape jelly to make a gooey mess. They argue, too, about the body (housing) of the bugs, debating the merits of cardboard or bottle caps. Ultimately, they compromise on toothbrush robots with mini vibrating motors (which are suddenly back in stock at the Wonder Hut).

From the Wonder Hut store clerk, the twins learn that Dr. Sakurai has been giving robots to the businesses in town to help promote the store. What follows is a comedy of errors and a series of misreads and half information as the kids try and sort things out.

As the mystery begins to unravel, the robots in town take on sinister overtones. But Nick and Tesla are up to the challenge. During a final showdown, Nick improvises exactly the right tool to save the day. Read the book to find out how (scientifically) his Super-soaker Bot Blaster takes down a robot army!


Making Connections

Readers of Robot Army Rampage will delight in Nick and Tesla's second summer adventure. As they follow along, they will pick up general robotics vocabulary, information, and inspiration. Servo motors, actuators, hydraulics, pneumatics, kinematic functions, micromotors... it's all here! As in book one, Robot Army Rampage contains guided versions of some of Nick and Tesla's inventions as DIY activities for readers, including Nick's Do-It-Yourself PC Leftovers Wander-Bot, Tesla's Do-It-Yourself Semi-Invisible Bottle Bot, Homemade Robo-Bug, Replacement Angel Hoverbot, and the Totally Improvised Super-Soaker Bot Blaster.

Readers can find similar hands-on science and engineering projects at Science Buddies that extend the fun and encourage students to try out additional approaches to building and designing robots and hovercraft! See the following science project ideas, blog posts, and family science activities for more information:

On the Nick and Tesla website, students, parents, and teachers can watch videos of projects from the book. A great educator's guide is also available for parents and teachers. The guide includes vocabulary, chapter summaries, questions for discussion, writing/research suggestions, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) notes, and more.

Don't miss our in-depth look at book 1, Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself and stay tuned for our review of book 3, Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle! Book 4, Nick and Tesla's Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove: A Mystery with a Blinking, Beeping, Voice-Recording Gadget Glove You Can Build Yourself, is scheduled for release in October, 2014.


If you have a favorite science-themed book—for any age—let us know!

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Explore surface tension with a small raft and soap science experiment  / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a physics family science experiment that investigates the dynamics of surface tension. Surface tension may keep your soda from spilling over the cup when you fill it a bit too full, but can surface tension also be used to propel something? In this science activity, students build a small, lightweight raft and experiment to see how surface tension—and some dish soap—can help move it across the surface of water.


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Computer bugs and vulnerabilities like the Heartbleed bug provide frightening reminders of how important it is to set strong passwords online. Students can learn more about password practices and experiment with testing passwords by using and improving a password-guessing program written in Python.

Combination lock
How many possible passwords could be created from the lock above? How long would it take to crack a password on this lock? When you move to online passwords, you may have many more possible options for setting your password. How can you create passwords that are harder for a computer program to guess? Science projects at Science Buddies help students explore human behavior related to setting and remembering passwords—and let students learn more about computer science and programming by trying a password guessing program written in Python.
The Heartbleed bug detected a few months ago created a flurry of "change your password" warnings. The bug, a hole in popular opensource code that could let hackers grab chunks of server memory (including user login information) without leaving any trail, sat quietly for two years before it was discovered.

Heartbleed was a pervasive bug because many, many servers use OpenSSL, a tool used by sites, ironically, to help protect the transmission of sensitive information. Both the number of servers potentially affected by the bug and the fact that someone exploiting the bug (and stealing user information) could do so without being detected makes the bug particularly frightening.

Not every site and company was impacted by the Heartbleed bug, but many were. (According to some estimates, as much as 66% of the Internet was impacted by the Heartbleed security flaw.) Thankfully, news of the bug and checklists for sites for which users definitely needed to change their logins, traveled fast. Heartbleed was big news in both public and private circles. You may have even shared, retweeted, emailed, or texted warnings or public service announcements about Heartbleed to your own friends and family.

News of the Heartbleed bug immediately caused password and online security and privacy panic. While coders and server owners raced to patch the bug, users faced up to the fact that changing passwords was necessary. According to a recent Wired article, "Heartbleed triggered what was probably the single largest mass-password change in history: In response to the bug, some 86 million internet users in the U.S. alone changed at least one password or deleted an internet account."

After reviewing several charts of online sites that were affected by the Heartbleed bug, including many social media sites, I realized I didn't have a choice. To ignore the risk of the Heartbleed bug would be to bury my head in the sand. I needed to change passwords at least on some of the major sites I access frequently, sites that are part of my daily routine.

You may know that a simple password like "apple" is not a good idea. Neither is the name of your pet or your birth date. But what is a good password? How complicated does a password need to be to be safe from hackers? Is any password really unbreakable?

Taking a look at how passwords can be guessed can help answer that question. By experimenting with a password guessing program, students may better understand strategies to take to make sure passwords are as strong as possible.


Personal Password Protocol

Once upon a time, I used a single password for all of my logins. Gradually, a bit of paranoia crept into my approach as stories of identify theft began to rise and as the number of places requiring a login increased. Did I really want the same password at x gaming or shopping site as I use to access my bank? If someone hacks my email or my iTunes, to how many other accounts might they also gain access?

Along the way, I changed how I create my passwords, how many I use, and how I structure them.

Then there was Heartbleed.

Dealing with the Heartbleed bug was definitely not fun. Many of us have dozens and dozens of logins, possibly involving dozens and dozens of passwords. All those passwords add up!

In response to Heartbleed, I changed a handful of passwords in one afternoon. I jotted down a few of the changes on a slip of paper. (This probably wasn't the smartest choice.) I promptly lost the paper in moving between rooms and between computers. (More than a month later, I still have not caught sight again of that scrap of paper.)

When I next tried to use Facebook... bam. Trouble. I tried dozens of combinations and tweaks on my old password. Dozens of failed attempts. Lots of wasted time. I finally got in, and then repeated, amazingly, the same difficulty when I was prompted to log in again on another computer. And then again on my phone.

When I tried to log into one of several email accounts, my Instagram account, my Pinterest, I ran into password trouble at every turn. Because so many of my passwords differ, I repeatedly found myself at a loss trying to get logged back in, a process I had to repeat on every device I use.

Unfortunately, while I had trouble cracking my own passwords, even though I know the general parameters of how I set them and how I had tried to systematically change them, a hacker probably would not have nearly as much trouble breaking my passwords or yours.


Real-world Online Security

Password security is always something about which you want to be cautious, mindful, and protective.

In the movies, you often see people—on the well-intended side as well as on the criminal side—trying to figure out a password based on somewhat obvious details or identifying information about the person (like a child's name, a birth date, or a favorite rock band).

Off the big screen, guessing someone's password is not usually that easy. Most people are savvy enough about online security to use something less than obvious, to throw in some mix of capitalization, and to intermix numbers, letters, and symbols.

Guessing a friend or family member's password might be harder than you think, or even impossible—for you. But for someone applying technology to the process of stealing passwords, you might be surprised at how quickly a password can be broken by a bit of computer code.

A program isn't trying to "guess" the password the same way you might. Instead, a computer program may be coded to run systematically through all possible combinations to try and break your code.


Making Student Science Connections

Two science projects at Science Buddies tackle password security and guide students in an investigation of computer security behaviors and technologies.

  • Do People Use Different Passwords for Different Accounts? is a human behavior project in which students investigate password practices among groups of users. In this project, students survey people to better understand how different users think about, use, and create passwords for online sites and services. Do they use the same password everywhere? How many passwords do they have? What kinds of trends can be identified among users regarding password practices? (For more information about conducting survey-based science projects, see the Designing a Survey and Sample Size: How Many Survey Participants Do I Need? resources from the Science Buddies Project Guide. Don't overlook the ways in which your online connections and social media can be used to help broaden your survey pool!)

  • Password Security: How Easily Can Your Password Be Hacked? is a computer science project in which students take an inside look at how difficult (or not difficult) figuring out a password can be. By first thinking about a standard combination lock and doing the math to determine the number of combinations (and how much time it might take to test each one) and then moving on to thinking through the same process for more difficult kinds of locks, students look from the ground up at password construction and password cracking.

    Using an introductory exercise in reading and writing Python code, the project guides students in an exploration of how computer routines can try and guess passwords. You can't use this code to steal someone's information from somewhere else, but you can have fun experimenting with guessing a password a friend inputs in the program code or testing the code to guess your own strings and compare the time it takes the program to guess different kinds of passwords. What makes it harder for the program to guess a password? What kind of password takes longest? Can this simple program crack the passwords you normally use? Can you come up with a password the program can't guess? You can also test the password guessing code to see if you can figure out a few sample passwords from Science Buddies.

Note: the project above is not designed to encourage students to try and write code that might steal user information. Instead, the project gives students a better understanding of how passwords can be systematically tested and guessed by software (even if millions of possible combinations have to be checked). The project also gives students a fun, real-world scenario in which to experiment with Python computer programming. Learning to run, edit, and revise the provided code involves installing Python, learning to interpret the code, and familiarizing oneself with the syntax specific to Python, which is important for students who may already have experience with other coding languages.


Memorizing Passwords

Keeping track of multiple passwords can be complicated, and as the number of passwords you use increases, so does the challenge of remembering them all! One strategy people often talk about in setting a password is to use the first letter of each word in a title or phrase. This kind of password is called a passphrase.

When using a passphrase password, you are using a memorable (you hope) sentence as a way to help you remember your password. People use similar approaches to help remember other strings of information. Mnemonic devices help people remember information by attaching the information to something more easily remembered. A silly sentence made from the first letters of the names of the planets, for example, may make it easier to remember the order of the planets than just trying to memorize the planet names in order.

The Memory Mnemonics science project guides students in an exploration of mnemonic devices and how they may help improve someone's ability to remember information. For a simplified family science activity version of this project, see Memory Science.


Protect Yourself Online

For additional information regarding best practices for online safety and privacy, see the Internet Safety Guide.



Support for resources and Project Ideas related to cybersecurity is provided by Northrop Grumman.

Support for Computer Science Project Ideas and Internet Safety information at Science Buddies is provided by Symantec Corporation.

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3D printing has opened a cool new frontier of custom manufacturing that brings freedom to individuals interested in design, invention, or just in need of a rare or unusual part. With a hands-on modeling and design project using Autodesk 123D Make, students can design and assemble a layered 3D model for a better understanding of how 3D printing and additive manufacturing works.

3D printing is all the buzz. From replacement parts for household objects or toys that are broken to one-of-a-kind creations to a large-scale approach to manufacturing that may revolutionize the way products are made, 3D printing has changed how people think about "making" things that once required industrial machines and molds. In addition to giving individual inventors and designers new options for testing out ideas, 3D printing brings new possibility to many big industries, from automotive to healthcare. 3D printing is a game changer, and industry and DIY and maker communities alike are excited by what 3D print technologies enable, but the printer in your school computer lab or home office probably still prints out the same flat images and text as it always did.

What is 3D printing all about? What does it really mean for a printer to "print" a ready-made, fully-functional object, on demand, similar to the way you might request an item from a vending machine?


One-of-a-kind Designs

You may have read stories about "printed" objects ranging from artificial organs to cell phone accessories and other tchotchkes, things that someone wants to make but doesn't need a million of or even a hundred. Or maybe what you need is a specific little piece to replace something that is broken, a piece that is hard to find or no longer made. With 3D printing, you can make just one of any item you can imagine—as long as you can create a digital 3D model. There are no expensive molds and machines that have to be made, customized, or altered to handle each design or each change. Instead, using a digital design file as a blueprint, a 3D printer prints out the object, layer by layer.

With 3D printing, the z axis comes into play as the printer adds "depth" to the print. In order to create a file for 3D printing, designers use computer-aided software to create a 3D model of an object that can then be printed with a special 3D printer. Depending on the printer, 3D printed objects can be made from a variety of materials, including rubber, plastics, paper, and even metals. Using the digital blueprint, the printer (loaded with the chosen material) extrudes the material layer upon layer, similar to the way that a regular printer deposits ink as the printer head moves back and forth across the page—only dimensionally instead of just in flat, horizontal rows.


Creating Paper Models

The layer by layer approach central to 3D printing is an example of additive manufacturing. In traditional manufacturing, an object might be created by taking a block of material and removing (or subtracting) material to get to the desired shape. Sculpting something out of a block of soap or a block of wood, for example, involves a subtractive approach—you whittle away what you don't need to leave only the desired shape behind. With additive manufacturing, layers of material are added, one by one, to build the object to the desired shape and size. Only what is needed is used, so there is less waste.

That virtually any object imaginable, including artificial organs, can be constructed by printing "layers," may seem hard to believe. A novel software application from Autodesk helps remove the mystery of additive construction by giving users a hands-on way to create their own additive models.

Autodesk's 123D Make auto-converts 3D digital objects into 2D vector-cut patterns or templates. Using 123D Make, students can print out the individual layers needed to construct a 3D model (designed in another program) and then glue or tape the layers together to manually build the 3D object. Using paper (or cardboard) to construct a 3D object from layers lets students see, from the ground up, how a 3D printer creates a 3D object from layers. It's a great creative exercise, but using 123D Make is also a great way to take a hands-on, nuts-and-bolts look at how an object can be built from layers—and how computer-aided design and modeling is related to what a 3D printer will "do" when printing out the dimensional object.


Making a 3D Model

Using 123D Make, students can explore fundamental principles of 3D additive design by making their own 3D object from layers. Opening up one of the many gallery examples is a great way to get started. Choose a model like a "skull," "rocket," or "rhino," and you can immediately see how layers are used to create the item. With 123D Make, students can change the size of the item, change the direction of the "slices" (which plane is used for slicing?), and even view the same object as it could be assembled using various techniques, including stacking (layering) and paper folding.

Once a design has been finalized, it can be laser-cut (professionally) or, for an at-home look at the process, the design can be printed out on multiple sheets that contain all of the slices necessary to make the object, layer by layer. Trace and cut the shapes from cardboard, grab some glue, and you have the makings of a fascinating creative engineering activity. (Some versions of the 123D Make application animate the assembly steps, layer by layer, as shown in the screenshot below. All layers are numbered for DIY assembly.)

Screenshot from 123D Make Screenshot from 123D Make Screenshot from 123D Make
Above: Using 123D Make, students can see and print all of the layers needed to construct the 3D object.

123D Make is available as an iOS or Android app, a standalone software product, and a web application.


Next Steps

After experimenting with a cardboard-based, glue-it-together 3D model, students can continue to explore 3D modeling and 3D printing using one of a range of Autodesk tools. The Autodesk 123D site connects students with a number of free apps and tools, resources, and samples to help jump start exploration of 3D and computer-aided design.

autocad-apps.png
Above: Autodesk offers a full suite of 3D modeling and 3D printing tools.


Premier Design Tools for Educational Use

Autodesk gives students, educators, and educational institutions free access to professional design software, creativity apps, and real-world projects. For more information, details about education use, and to download software, visit the Autodesk Education Community.


What Will You Make?

If you are already a user of Autodesk software, we would love to hear from you! If you try 123D Make, or any other tool on the 123D site, please let us know. We would love to see what you build, design, explore, or even print!




Science Buddies' resources for students, teachers, and parents remain free thanks to support from sponsors like Autodesk.

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Compare finger prints within families and fingerprint science  / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a genetics and genomics family science experiment for Father's Day. Fingerprints are unique, but do family members share fingerprint characteristics? Are there patterns of inheritance that come into play when it comes to fingerprints? Put the question to the test with a visual examination of fingerprints among siblings and between different family members!



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From physics to statistics, science plays a big role in soccer. As the World Cup unfolds this summer, watch the games, cheer on your favorite teams, and see science in action!

Sports fans all over the world are gearing up for FIFA World Cup soccer, which begins on June 13 in Brazil. Over the course of a month, soccer devotees will celebrate victories and groan over defeats as teams from 32 nations play 64 matches in 12 different stadiums, culminating in the final game on July 13.

To make it into that final match, elite soccer players will leave everything on the field, giving their fans the chance to see awesome punts, exciting goals, and split-second reaction times. How can these players score from impossible angles? How do goalies block shots? Practice makes perfect, but scientific principles have something to do with it, too.


Making Connections

The following Science Buddies Project Ideas help students uncover and explore the science in soccer:

  • The Science of Spin: How Does Spin Affect the Trajectory of a Kicked Soccer Ball?: To "Bend It Like Beckham," you need to put the right amount of spin on the ball. Experiment with kicking different points of the ball to see how the flight path changes.
  • Under Pressure: Bouncing Ball Dynamics: What would soccer be without a bouncy ball? Does it matter how much the ball is inflated? In this quick and easy experiment, investigate the concept of air pressure.
  • How Far Can You Throw (or Kick) a Ball?: Grab some friends, head out to a field, and have fun going for the longest punt! Explore how the trajectory of the ball affects the distance that the ball travels.
  • Think Fast!: Lightning-fast reaction times are a must for top goalies. Try this project and discover how fast your reflexes are!
  • Geometry of Goal-Scoring: Ready to score one for the team? Test your accuracy when kicking from different angles to the goal, and then use your math and graphing skills to explain your success rate.

Science and Sports Go Hand-in-Hand

Sports science makes it easy to bring up scientific concepts in everyday life. Whether they are throwing, running, swimming, or kicking, asking the right questions can help kids see that science that isn't just for classrooms. Visit the Science Buddies Sports Science topic area to find more winning ideas!




Science Buddies' Sports Science Project Ideas are sponsored by Time Warner Cable.
Time Warner Cable

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Make and explore the geodesic dome with one made from gumdrops and toothpicks science experiment  / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a civil engineering family science experiment that guides students in building a simple geodesic dome from candies and toothpicks (or tubes made from newspaper) and then exploring the shape. How strong is a geodesic dome? How much weight can it hold? Where in nature and architecture can you find examples of dome shapes?


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Chemistry titration project (and science kit) to investigate and compare quantities of Vitamin C in juice.


To investigate the science question above regarding quantities of Vitamin C in different kinds of juices or drinks, see the following resources and projects:

For other Science Buddies Project Ideas involving titration, see:



(Note: The projects above can be done using the Orange Juice titration kit from the Science Buddies Store.)

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For this year's Pritzker Prize winner, cardboard and paper have proven to be key materials in designing disaster relief housing. Examples of Shigeru Ban's work force a reconsideration of design, materials science, and civil engineering. Can using recyclable materials make a cost-effective and sustainable difference in the way architecture is approached? With cardboard tubes, paper, straws, and other everyday materials, students can experiment with principles on a small scale that the award-winning architect uses in humanitarian structures around the world.

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Paper Nursery School, Ya'an City, Sichuan, China, 2014. Photo by Shigeru Ban Architects.

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Paper Nursery School, Ya'an City, Sichuan, China, 2014. Photo by Shigeru Ban Architects.

Architecture is a science and an art form, a field in which form and function meet at a point where materials are turned into buildings and structures that may be used for business, housing, or social gathering. Throughout history, there have been chains of evolution in architectural style and tradition, approaches to design that often mirror trends in society. But when you think about architecture today, you probably think about big buildings, skyscrapers, and towers that create skylines in some of the world's most well-known cities. You may also think of unusual examples of architecture, like the circular Guggenheim Museum in New York, Lloyds Building in London (often called the "Inside-Out Building"), Sydney Opera House in Australia (a series of interlocking shells), or a Frank Lloyd Wright building like Fallingwater, which appears to grow out of a hillside and sits atop a waterfall.


Unique examples of architecture may make headlines, and city skylines make postcards, but even when it comes to everyday construction—ordinary houses—buildings usually involve strong materials, materials designed for permanence. These materials are often costly, and construction may be time consuming.

But what exactly is a strong material? If a typhoon blows through, will the structure withstand the force? What happens to a "strong" material during an earthquake? If the material doesn't hold up, what options are there for fast, inexpensive solutions for residents displaced by disaster?

Paper Log House, Cebu, Philippines
Paper Log House, Cebu, Philippines. Photo by Shigeru Ban Architects.


Strong as Paper?

Out of what materials is your own house built? Depending on where you live and what unique properties architects and civil engineers have to take into account in your area (like the risk of earthquake, climate, or the composition of the ground), your house might have a framework of wood, steel, or concrete. The structure and walls of your house are likely made from materials expected to stand up to environmental factors over time.

What about a house made out of cardboard?

The idea may sound surprising, but for Japanese architect Shigeru Ban cardboard is not only a viable building material but a material he has used in dozens of buildings designed to provide relief housing for victims of natural disaster.

Ban was recently awarded the 2014 Pritzker Prize, one of the most prestigious prizes given each year in architecture. Ban has a history in commercial architecture, but in recent years, he has donated his skills to helping design and build structures in disaster zones. Most notable about his volunteer work on behalf of disaster victims is that his buildings are made primarily using recyclable materials.

Cardboard may seem incongruous to building in an area where natural forces have destroyed permanent housing, but Ban has shown, around the world, that materials like shipping containers and paper can be used to create fast, low-cost temporary housing and social structures that are sound, protective, and can be erected quickly.

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Paper Log House, 2000, Turkey. Photo by Shigeru Ban Architects.


A Paper-based Approach

It is hard not to be awed and inspired by images of Ban's designs (like the ones shown above). Repeatedly, his work shows ingenuity in design and materials that tackles a problem (the need for a certain structure) with a simple, recyclable solution.
After the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, Ban designed temporary classrooms, a "paper nursery school," that volunteers were able to quickly build from cardboard tubes. In Rwanda, in 1999, he designed paper refugee shelters. In Italy, after the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake, Ban designed a concert hall from a combination of materials, including cardboard, a social structure designed to pay tribute to the musical heritage of L'Aquila and to rekindle the spirit of residents. In both Turkey and Japan, Ban designed paper log housing. Ban's Japanese Pavilion (built for an Expo, not in the wake of disaster), was created from paper tubes. The structure took three weeks to build from thousands of paper tubes and spanned more than 236 feet across and 50 feet high.

In some cases, Ban's structures are designed to be able to be taken down and rebuilt, as needed. In other cases, Ban's designs become a lasting part of the community. The Cardboard Cathedral he designed after the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, for example, was initially envisioned as a temporary replacement structure, but before construction began, plans changed. The beautiful cardboard, steel, and glass A-frame church is immediately recognizable as a place of worship, despite the fact that the roof is constructed from cardboard tubes.


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Cardboard Cathedral, 2013, Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen Goodenough.



Unexpected Materials

So, why paper? And "how" paper?

In an interview with CNN after the Pritzker Prize was announced, reporter William Lee Adams asked Ban about his use of paper. "The strength and durability of a building has nothing to do with the material," Ban told Adams. "Even a building built in concrete can be destroyed very easily. There can be a permanent building made out of cardboard tubes."

Paper Emergency Shelter for Haiti, 2010, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Paper Emergency Shelter for Haiti, 2010, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo by Shigeru Ban Architects.


Beyond Card Houses

Students intrigued by Ban's work, by architecture, or by the ways in which Ban's design approach contributes to disaster relief solutions around the world can explore design and engineering concepts in civil engineering and materials science project ideas like these:


Paper Temporary Studio, 2004, Paris, France. Photo by Didier Boy dela Tour
Paper Temporary Studio, 2004, Paris, France. Photo by Didier Boy dela Tour.


To see more examples of Ban's architecture, visit: http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/works.html

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A Super Science-filled Summer Break


Ready or not... into the summer break we go. With school (almost) out for the summer, take stock of some great science activities and challenges that are perfect to help keep kids engaged and actively learning during the break. Science may be even more fun when it is "just for fun"!

2014 Science Buddies Summer Science GuideThe long summer break can feel bittersweet for parents who worry about their students whiling away countless hours on the couch or in front of a screen and losing academic ground. Beyond the buzz of vacations and camps, and after the novelty of sleeping in and staying up late wears off, the summer sprawl can even begin to feel, at some point, a bit amorphous for students. There are a lot of hours to fill!

Luckily, there are loads of engaging science and engineering activities that can be done at home for fun or as independent summer projects and can tie in with other summer pastimes and hobbies.


Great Science on the Schedule

Every year, we pull together suggestions for summer science activities and experiments. Our roundup lists from the last two years contain many wonderful suggestions for projects kids can do during the summer and ways parents can inject a bit of science into summer planning.

This year, we will be unveiling a new area of Science Buddies in June that will be a great resource for family summer science—and family science all year long! But there are lots of projects at Science Buddies that students can enjoy even when they don't need to do a "science fair project" or complete a science project assignment.

As you look ahead to summer, remember, doing science doesn't have to be for school! You and your kids can earn an A++ this summer by exploring science and engineering at home.

Here are some of our picks for this summer:

2014 Summer Science Guide: Art Bot Robotics Science Project 2014 Summer Science Guide: Rainbow Fire Science Project 2014 Summer Science Guide:  Putty Polymer Science Project

2014 Summer Science Guide: Soft Robot Gripper Science Project 2014 Summer Science Guide: Paper Dolls Science Project 2014 Summer Science Guide: Electromagnet Science Project

2014 Summer Science Guide: Grape Soda Chromatography 2014 Summer Science Guide: Bird Feet Science Project 2014 Summer Science Guide: Rock Candy Crystal Science Project

2014 Summer Science Guide: Cabbage Grow Science Project 2014 Summer Science Guide: Water Float on Water Science Project 2014 Summer Science Guide: Ant Barrier Science Project

2014 Summer Science Guide: Hydroponics Science Project 2014 Summer Science Guide:  Electrolytes Science Project 2014 Summer Science Guide: Hummingbird Science Project

2014 Summer Science Guide: Ice Cream Science Project 2014 Summer Science Guide: Bristlebot Toothbrush Robots Science Project 2014 Summer Science Guide:  Carbonated Soda Science Project

2014 Summer Science Guide: Bubble Science Project 2014 Summer Science Guide: Biosphere Science Project 2014 Summer Science Guide: Milk Carton Boats Science Project


More Great Choices for Science at Home

Don't miss these other roundup lists of great "what to do over the break" science, technology, engineering, and math projects as well:

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Use a pinwheel to explore wind turbine power and energy science experiment  / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: an energy-focused family science experiment that explores the relationship between the potential power of a wind turbine and the source and location of the wind. Using a pinwheel, students create their own horizontal-axis wind turbine and experiment to see how the pinwheel spins when the wind comes at it from different directions—and how this translates into how much weight the wind turbine can lift. A pinwheel is a simple example of a wind turbine, but with this hands-on experiment, students can see the affect of the wind direction in how many small items the pinwheel can lift.


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Joints give paper dolls added life and let little fingers manipulate characters as they play out their roles in an imaginative storyline. But joints also add potential hot spots for damage. A plastic toy figurine may lose its arm, head, or hair, but the life of a paper doll may be even more short-lived! A new hands-on science activity helps kids experiment with paper dolls by putting the durability of certain design and materials choices to the test. Once the best approach is scientifically determined, kids can make and decorate a paper doll with greater understanding of how the materials affect how well the doll will last.

Paper Doll Lisa from paper dolls materials science project Paper Doll Vincent from paper dolls materials science project
Above: Paper Doll Lisa and Paper Doll Vincent were made by students testing the new paper dolls materials science project.
Paper may not be the most durable of materials, but kids have been playing with—and making—paper toys and creations for generations. From paper sailboats to paper pirate hats to paper planes, paper gets used in all kinds of creative ways to let kids explore design and construction, experiment with science and math principles, and occupy little hands with active and imaginative low-cost play. Paper dolls are a great example of a paper-based toy that kids make, use, and enjoy. But paper dolls are also a good reminder of the ways in which a toy made from paper may or may not last well, stand up to repeated use, or survive rough play.


Choose Your Own Character

Paper dolls are a low-tech, inexpensive, and open-ended activity at home. With a bit of paper, some coloring tools, and imagination, kids can turn any character into a paper doll. You can find examples, templates, and inspiration online for all kinds of exciting paper dolls, from ninjas, robots, and fairies to dragons, pirates, and mermaids. The possibilities are endless, but not all paper dolls are constructed the same and, as the saying goes, not all paper dolls are made equal.


Choose Your Materials and Design

Some paper dolls are made from single pieces of paper. These dolls sometimes are designed to fit into a stand, and kids make costumes and wardrobes that can be attached using tabs, tape, buttons, or bits of Velcro. Other paper dolls kick construction up a notch and are articulated or jointed. These dolls may only have one set of clothing, but they contain moving parts like arms and legs. The number of moving parts may vary. You can certainly find paper doll creations with numerous jointed parts, but you can also make a basic articulated paper doll that only has movable arms and legs.

Articulated paper dolls offer more flexibility for positioning the doll during storytelling or play, but having multiple moving parts also makes the dolls subject to different kinds of wear and tear.

Paper doll materials science project template for articulated paper doll
Above: What method of attaching the arms to the paper doll body results in the most durable paper doll? Students put it to the test in a new science project at Science Buddies!


Testing Paper Doll Construction

In a new materials science project at Science Buddies, students (and families) can turn paper doll-making into a hands-on science project. There are a number of ways that the joints of an articulated paper doll may be assembled. Do the various approaches to constructing a paper doll affect how well the doll will last? How much wear and tear can the joints take? In addition to articulation, there are a number of other design options that may make a difference in how well a doll lasts or how durable it is.

The Get Crafty—Create Your Own Durable Paper Doll project focuses on the issue of articulated joints and explores two design options, the weight of the paper you use for the doll and what you use to attach the arms. The project guides students in doing a quantitative test of the various combinations to see which is strongest (or which can support the most weight before an arm is ripped off the doll). This quantitative approach helps students see the value in doing an assessment that can be measured rather than just doing a subjective assessment. After doing a scientific experiment with dolls made from two kinds of paper and with joints attached using two different methods, students will be able to see from their data which approach was most durable.


Making Connections

A hands-on project like this can be used to talk with kids about design, engineering, materials science, and the value of scientific product design and construction testing. Even when it comes to toys, science can be used to explore what works and what doesn't work and to come up with solutions and improvements that will lead to longer-lasting toys—and happier kids!

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Assembling a simple wooden train and track with cleverly placed magnetic strips lets kids experiment with a train that levitates off the track and zips effortlessly from one end to the other when pushed. What happens when you add a bit of weight? Put the science question to the test in this fun hands-on science activity and experiment.

maglev train experiment family science project

maglev train experiment family science project

The allure of a magic trick is something pretty cool to most kids. The quarter pulled from behind the ear. It's a classic sleight of hand passed down by generations. The finger that appears to be separated into two parts at the knuckle, able to be slid side to side. (That one has been used to gross out and entertain plenty of kids.) Card tricks. Bunnies from hats. People that vanish from a cube. Magic appeals to us on some level where suspension of disbelief wars with our intellect, our logic, and our puzzle-solving skills. Part of enjoying a trick may, in fact, be trying to figure out how it was done, how it is possible, what really accounts for what we saw, and how to do it ourselves!

That science is full of everyday things that seem magical is a cool twist on sleight of hand and illusion. The more you understand science, the more you can explain what is going on in a process that seems "magical."

In the Harry Potter books, the train that transported the kids to and from school each year involved walking right through a wall to reach the 9 3/4 platform at King's Cross Station. That's a special kind of magic—the fantasy kind. Science can't explain it. The train on the other side of the wall, the shiny red Hogwarts Express, appears to be fairly normal, a fast-moving steam locomotive on tracks.

But there are other real-world kinds of trains that may seem to have a bit of magic to them. Maglev trains are ones that seem to hover or float above a track rather than rolling across it. Maglev trains may look similar to monorail trains, but a maglev train specifically levitates and is powered by electromagnetic forces. Plus, a maglev train doesn't have wheels!

It may look like magic, but it isn't. A maglev train is lifted by the way magnetic fields positioned a certain way repel one another. As the fields push away from each other, the train lifts off of the track and floats above the rail. Because it floats, when the train moves, there is no friction of train wheels against train tracks, so a Maglev train can go faster than a traditional train that rolls on wheels. There are still air forces (like drag) to take into account, but some maglev trains are capable of speeds greater than 300 mph.


Bringing the Magic Home

Studying magnets and magnetism is often exciting for elementary students. The way magnetic fields can be oriented to repel or attract one another can provide lots of entertainment value as students explore magnetism and learn more about how magnets work. You can extend magnetism discussions with a wide range of hands-on science projects and activities that can be done at home or at school. From testing the strength of an electromagnet to building a simple motor, students can explore magnetism with projects that remove the "magic" but still have plenty of "wow" factor.

For a different spin on magnetism, building a simple Maglev train is a fun way to couple a creative project with a science activity. The Magic Bullet Train kit, available in the Science Buddies Store, is a great way to get kids talking about and actively exploring magnetism and the real-world application of magnetic fields in levitating trains. Two generic magnets on a table may push away from one another, but they probably don't move far. That the same principle can be used to lift a train is pretty cool science!

Using the do-it-yourself maglev train kit, students first make their own bullet train by sanding down and painting a wooden block that will be the "train" in the experiment. How far you go with this step is up to you and your kids. It isn't easy to sand the rectangular block into something that really looks like a bullet, but spending time sanding, shaping, and then painting, decorating, and personalizing the train is part of the fun of the project! Just be sure that you don't sand the "bottom" of the train. You want to leave the bottom edge untouched.


All Aboard for Magnetic Science!

When using the Magic Bullet Train kit as a family science activity, the "building" of the train is the bulk of the activity. The small directions booklet that comes with the train kit walks you step by step through assembling the wooden rail system, adding the magnetic strips, and attaching the girders to your painted wooden train. Be careful during assembly to line things up as shown, to adhere the magnetic strips on the proper sides of the wooden rails and train, and to attach the girders as low to the bottom of the train as you can to ensure the train hovers as high as possible above the wooden rail.

Unlike a real-world maglev train, the wooden train kit relies on the standard magnetic field between the magnetic strips. There is no electromagnetism adding to the field, so don't be surprised if the train doesn't hover as high as you expect—or does not seem to hover the first time. It can take some fiddling with the placement of the girders to ensure the train hovers properly. But once you get things set up properly, a simple push of the train sends it gliding smoothly across the track. Your kids will see and feel the lack of track friction as the train glides across!

It looks like magic!

Having built the system, your young engineers will be in on the trick and able to explain how the magnetic strips work hold the train off the track. You can talk, too, about the design of the train and what holds the train "on" the track and why certain aspects of the train's design are important so that it won't fall off—design factors that help prevent accidents.

Because of the small size of the experiment and the limited number of parts (just the train and the track, once assembled), this is a great science experiment to take to school and show off. Check with your teacher first, but chances are that a small demonstration of magnetism in the form of a maglev train will be welcome and can be squeezed in during some part of the day.

Building the train is a great hands-on experiment in and of itself, but if there is a science fair assignment on hand, a student can use the train kit as the basis for a full science investigation. The The Amazing Floating Train: How Much Weight Can a Maglev Train Hold? project at Science Buddies guides students in an exploration of the relationship between weight and a maglev train's ability to levitate. It makes sense that a floating train will have maximum weight limits. But what happens when those limits are exceeded? In the The Amazing Floating Train science project, students put it to the test with their own maglev train and plastic cups filled with varying amounts of water.

You might find other ways to vary the project, too. Could you experiment with stronger magnetic strips? What would happen if you did? The "Make It Your Own" tab also contains a challenge to student engineers—install a magnetic "brake" system at the end of the track!

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Make bath bombs and explore the chemistry science / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a family science experiment that promises fizzy fun in the tub (or in a big bucket of hot water). Bath bombs are easy to make at home. You can mix up your own using your choice of additives with the core ingredients. But what makes a bath bomb "fizz" when it hits the water? In this science activity, students experiment with the recipe for making a bath bomb and investigate the role of corn starch and citric acid in the process. What is the chemical reaction that happens when the dried bath bomb touches the warm water? What ratio of ingredients makes the fizziest bath bomb? Mix up a few batches to find out! Once you have found your favorite formulation, you can make bath bombs to give as gifts—or just use them yourself!


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Sports Science project exploring basketball dribbling and energy / Hands-on science STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a sports science that looks at the physics of what is going on when you dribble a basketball. After you push the ball to the floor, the ball meets the floor or court and then returns, but it doesn't necessarily return to the same height. What does the surface of the floor have to do with how a ball bounces when dribbled, how much effort a player has to use to keep the ball dribbling uniformly, and what is going on with the energy of the ball in motion? Put it to the test with a fun hands-on sports science project that lets you observe and measure how balls bounce differently as a result of what's on the ground.


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Food Science project exploring ice cream making / Hands-on science STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a food science family science experiment and independent student science fair project that takes a deeper look at the chilly process of making ice cream. You can make your own ice cream using one of a variety of shaking or rolling processes, including using a baggy to hold the ingredients! How does adding salt to the ice mixture used to freeze the ingredients affect the process? Make your own ice cream to find out!


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DNA strawberry science experiment
Whether you explore strawberries, onions, the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex, or the ways in which certain physical traits are evident in your family, make time to talk about and experiment with DNA-related science. Students of all ages should know their A's, T's, G's, and C's. With a fun science kit from Bio-Rad Laboratories, they might even wear their own DNA around their neck!

The human genome contains more than 3 billion DNA base pairs. If you typed 360 letters a minute for eight hours a day, it would take you nearly 100 years to type all the letters. ~ Genome: Unlocking Life's Code, Educator's Guide for Teachers of Grades 7-12

That's a lot of DNA, a lot of letters, an almost incomprehensible amount of typing, and a lot of room for little mutations, changes, exceptions, similarities, and differences! This year, in celebration of National DNA Day (April 25, 2014), take time to talk with your students about DNA, genomes, and genomics.

Last year, for the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA and the decennial marker of the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, we pulled together a short overview of the history of DNA, its key players, Photo 51, and great DNA-related science projects that students can do to explore DNA in Celebrating DNA and the History of the Double Helix.

A DNA history lesson or refresher is never a bad idea, but when you pair the information with a simple experiment or hands-on activity, you give your students the opportunity to see firsthand what it means to talk about DNA base pairs, how DNA differs from a genome, and how DNA is essential to all living things!



iDNAtity Audio app screen shot

Your DNA; Your Music

Your DNA may influence the kind of music you like, but with the iDNAtity Audio app for iOS, you can create a custom piece of music that represents your DNA using sound. After you fill in some information about your basic physical characteristics, like eye color, skin tone, and hair color, the app uses information about those phenotypes to determine your DNA profile.

With a bit of computing, the letters of your DNA are then converted to the notes of a musical piece, letting you "hear" your DNA. Nifty! Be prepared, your unique DNA-based sound may or may not be completely tuneful, but it will be you! Try out your custom sound with your choice of a variety of instruments, save the clip, share it, and compare your DNA music with your family and friends.

To best complete the phenotype profiling questions, you need to be familiar with certain kinds of traits, including detached (or not) ear lobes and widow's peak. An in-app glossary is provided, but the Pedigree Analysis: A Family Tree of Traits Science Buddies Project Idea contains additional information and pictures that may prove helpful.

For more information on the science behind the app, see: idnatity.com/the-science-behind-idnatity/.

In celebration of DNA Day, the iDNAtity Audio app is free for download through Friday, April 25, 2014, courtesy of Bio-Rad Education.

Genomics Field Trip

For those in the Washington D.C. area, celebrate National DNA Day with a trip to the Smithsonian Institution! The Genome: Unlocking Life's Code exhibit (opened June 2013) is a great way to help students better understand DNA, the ways in which DNA is structured, sequenced, and analyzed by scientists, and the way DNA research helps scientists better understand the past, present, and future.

A collaboration between the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), the 4,400-square foot Genome: Unlocking Life's Code exhibit introduces visitors to the human genome and the role of genomics, the ways in which the genomes of other species show both similarities and differences, the impact of genomics on studies related to human origins, and the use of genomics in the future, particularly in health care.

Visitors to the Smithsonian exhibit can also get hands-on in the National Museum of Natural History's interactive Genome Zone. The Genome Zone houses a rotating queue of activities where students can examine their own traits, do lab experiment, make bead bracelets that show the genetic sequence of a chimpanzee or turtle, watch videos, and more.


Sampling Your DNA

In the Genome Zone, visitors may have the chance to extract a sample of their own DNA using the Genes in a BottleTM kit from Bio-Rad Laboratories. After extracting DNA from a cheek sample, students can admire it and possibly even take it home as a keepsake! Thanks to support from Bio-Rad, approximately 300 student Genome Zone visitors a day are getting up close and personal with their own genetic material—spooling their own DNA.

Thanks to the Genes in a Bottle kit and the Discovering DNA: Do Your Cheek Cells & a Strawberry Both Have DNA? Project Idea, visualizing DNA can be a simple, fun, at-home or at-school activity. At the end of the science experiment, students using the kit can preserve their DNA sample as a cool, one-of-a-kind pendant.


Support for Educators

For those not in Washington D.C. area, or for teachers and parents planning to take students to the exhibit, Genome: Unlocking Life's Code Educator's Guide for Teachers of Grades 7-12 is an excellent PDF resource. The 36-page guide contains supplemental information for a field trip to the exhibit and also offers summary information, a number of classroom activities (including printable assignment sheets), information tying Next-Generation Science Standards (NGSS) to the exhibit, a glossary, and a range of resources for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.


DNA Projects for K-12 Students

Students can also explore the world of DNA, genomes, and genomics in science projects from Science Buddies like these:



Science Buddies Project Ideas in Biotechnology Techniques are sponsored by support from Bio-Rad Laboratories and its Biotechnology Explorer program.


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Bunnies and chicks remind us that spring is here! No matter what sort of animals you have in your household, Science Buddies has a menagerie of Project Ideas for you to try.

2014-blog-pet-science-dog-food.png

Learning from Your Pet
Your pet may be a big part of your family, and observing and caring for your pet can be a part of your science learning, too! How do you train pets? How do you feed them to ensure their nutrition? How does the time of the day impact their behavior or sleep patterns? There are all kinds of questions you can ask and science you can explore!

Hop into any gift store this time of year, and you are likely to see a clutch of chicks or a herd of rabbits. These cute and fluffy animals have become symbols of spring and the Easter season.

I've never kept chickens or rabbits, but I do have plenty of wild rabbits hopping around my back yard at certain times of the year. They eat all of the flower buds off of my creeping phlox, but it is hard to get mad at something so darn cute.


The Zoo in Your House

According to the American Humane Society, 62% of U.S. households have a pet, so caring for an animal is a rite of passage for many kids. Do you look after a pet at home? Dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, and fish are popular choices for families. If you have lots of space, you may have something bigger, such as a horse or a flock of chickens.

Pets are a big responsibility, but they often reward us with love and companionship. They also can help us explore interesting science questions. Imagine caring for your pets and collecting data for your science project all at the same time. It is possible!

Take a look at these Science Buddies Project Ideas:


No Pets in the House?

If you don't have a pet, or if wild animals are where your interests lie, Science Buddies still has Project Ideas for you. Take a look at the animal-related student science projects below, or check out Science Buddies' Zoology area for more ideas.

As for my backyard rabbits, I didn't see them this winter. I am guessing that they moved on to yards with tastier foliage...or perhaps the local fox has had a feast. I guess I'll find out when my creeping phlox plants start to bud !

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The ping pong catapult is a great device for independent student science projects, but this is a tool you can use again and again—even as the basis for a fun afternoon or weekend family science activity. We put the rubber band catapult to use with a bag of plastic eggs for some high-flying family physics fun!

Ping Pong Catapult with Plastic Eggs experiment / family science activity

The Ping Pong Catapult has been used as the basis of a number of innovative science physics, math, and sports science projects at Science Buddies. If your student has an affinity for medieval lore, you can imagine using the device as catapults were once used—for siege—and explore the physics of trajectory through a hands-on simulation. In the Bombs Away! A Ping Pong Catapult project, students aim for a simple container target (e.g., shoe box), but for fun, you could create a castle from blocks, LEGO® bricks, or random household items or recycled containers, and either aim to knock the structure down with your ping pong ball attack or aim to launch over the structure (e.g., village walls) and into a target container (e.g., the village square or main castle). (See Under Siege! Use a Catapult to Storm Castle Walls for a project like this!)

Is your student more sports-minded than medieval? With a makeshift footfall field goal in place, you can explore kicking science, or, turn the catapult on its side and do an experiment related to baseball swings instead.

There are plenty of math and physics questions to ask and investigate using the Ping Pong Catapult (available in the Science Buddies Store). With all of these projects, keeping track of the data for every launch, hit, or kick is an important part of the exploration. Teachers and parents can easily turn the results of even informal ping pong catapult launches into a way to talk about statistics, including creating a histogram to plot results.

Before or after the school science project, however, you can use the catapult as a great indoor or outdoor science toy. My kids couldn't wait to get it out of the box and start launching balls through the house. (Be careful that they don't end up "lost" in the living room before your project or science activity starts!)


Portable, No-mess Science Setup!

Unlike some science activities, there is virtually zero setup with the catapult. Remove the pin, unfold it, replace the pin, slip a rubber band through the holes, and clamp the catapult to the edge of a table or chair. We were not planning to experiment right away, but my students were really eager to see how the catapult worked. Immediately after opening the kit, we cleared a table edge, clamped the catapult in place, and played around with the wiffle and ping pong balls and got a feel for how the catapult works, how you change the launch angle and pull-back angle separately, and how the use of the rubber bands can affect the way the object flies.

With just a bit of hands-on exploration at the dining room table, we were all set for some serious egg-flying fun. Plastic eggs, that is. (Your mileage and mess with real eggs may vary!)


You Don't Have to Have an Assignment

The great thing about family science is that you don't have to follow all the rules, do dozens of trials, or write a report at the end. You can take your family science as far and as deep as you want and tailor the activity to fit your students' interests, the time of the year, the materials on hand, or other parameters.

Easter is this week, so we decided to use the catapult with plastic eggs—much as you would experiment with the ping pong ball in the Bombs Away project. We spruced up some of the eggs we have collected over the past dozen years with zany permanent-marker faces and got ready to let the eggs fly.

We first did our launch trials indoors. Instead of using a big table, we clamped the catapult to a small wooden chair. As they quickly realized, getting the egg into the target "basket" is harder than it looks! But tweaking the angles is all part of the exploration, and with each change you make, you can immediately see what impact the change makes (if any) on the flight, trajectory, and distance. After experimenting with pullback and launch angles, they started tweaking the number of rubber bands. This resulted in eggs being hurled full force into the wall (well beyond the basket). They thought that was funny, but it prompted us to consider taking the project outdoors the next day and experimenting in a bigger space.

We packed the small chair, a basket of eggs, and the catapult in the car and headed to a neighborhood park. There were birthday parties going on in the grassy area, but the basketball court was unused. We set up our catapult (still using the wooden chair) on the court, put the basket a distance away, and let loose. The dynamics of outdoor flight were definitely different, and the breezy day made controlling the flight difficult. But it was still super fun!

Your Own Ping Pong Catapult Experiment

To experiment with the catapult for a science project or informal science activity of your own, see the following projects and ideas:


We would love to see your catapult in action! Share your photos with blog@sciencebuddies.org.


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Materials Sciences project to test the strength of eggshells and arches / Hands-on science STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a materials sciences family experiment and science fair project that asks you to rethink what you know about eggs. Are they fragile? Or are they strong? If you've ever accidentally stuck your finger through one in the kitchen, you may think you know the answer! But the shape of an egg can support a surprising amount of mass. It is a shape, in fact, that can be found in architecture. How much mass can eggshells hold? Put it to the test with a hands-on science experiment that lets you see how much mass you can stack on top of a set of eggs before they crack.


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Family Egg Science


Egg science comes over-easy this time of year. Whether you are boiling eggs, dyeing eggs, or both, there are easy questions you can ask with your kids to turn the activity into a hands-on science experiment that everyone will enjoy.

Egg Science / natural dyes
Egg Science / hard boiledEgg Science / soft-boiling eggsEgg Science / Strength of an Egg
Egg Science / natural dyesEgg Science / tie dye eggsEgg Science / family project

In the past few years, the process of preparing colorful, hard-boiled eggs has taken on new and very scientific significance for me as a parent. In turning the seemingly simple act of egg dyeing into a hands-on science endeavor with my kids, we have asked a variety of science questions (one at a time) and experimented with various steps in the process of boiling and dyeing.

If you will be boiling, dyeing, cracking, or hiding eggs this week with your kids at home or students at school, I hope you find science-minded inspiration and support for at-home science in the following family science posts from Easters past:

This year, I am not planning to run kid experiments with dyeing or boiling. Instead, we got hands-on, ahead of time, with a bag of plastic eggs and the ping pong catapult. Stay tuned for a photo recap of some serious egghead-launching fun! [Update! See how our plastic eggs experiment with the Ping Pong Catapult went. Super fun!]


Don't Miss This Egg Success Story

This story of a fourth grader's science project and his experience using silk ties to dye eggs is a great science project success story to share with your students. You can talk with them about pH and even try tie dyeing eggs as a group or home science activity!

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Ocean sciences density and salt water project to make an egg float / Hands-on science STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: an ocean sciences family experiment and science fair project. Some things float in water and some do not. Knowing the density of the object and the density of the water helps explain what is going on, and you can observe and talk about the buoyancy of an object. But adding salt can change what happens. Why? In this hands-on science experiment, you set up a series of dilutions to see at what point an egg goes from sinking to floating in salt water.


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There was no singular moment of Big Data Bang, but we are living in and heading towards a time of seemingly endless and exponential data explosion—and the race to create solutions and strategies to help tame, store, organize, and make sense of big data is on. But even before there was a moniker, there were large data sets being created and used in fields like the life sciences. Today, those data sets continue to grow and evolve. Working with publicly-available big data sets offers students a chance to get in on the forefront of the big data movement and start tackling big data questions and helping create big data solutions.

Circos data visualization / big data sample

What Big Data Looks Like
Many researchers and developers are working on tools that offer ways to visualize big data. When data is interpreted visually, the results are often beautiful, colorful renderings that underscore the richness of available data. These visualization tools may help researchers spot trends, connections, similarities, and patterns. The image shown above is from an opensource circular data visualization tool called Circos.

The phrase "big data" has made a correspondingly big splash in circles ranging from business to sports to school admissions boards. A few years ago, talk was about data mining. Today, no matter where you turn, you may run into discussions about big data.

With increasing amounts of data available and coming in from a variety of input points and multiplying over time, figuring out ways to best manage, organize, and manipulate data so that it can be analyzed to extract meaningful and useful information is a challenge that developers and researchers are racing to solve.


A Problem of Scale

The term big data highlights the fact that today's data is already vast, and it is ever-climbing upwards in size. The growth of data doesn't necessarily have an end point. Discussions of big data often talk about data sets that are in the terabytes, petabytes, or exabytes (a quintillion bytes). These are data sets that are too large to manage with ordinary tools, traditional spreadsheets, and manual number crunching, and the data sets are growing by the nanosecond.

Dealing with big data is sometimes labeled a "business" or "tech" problem, a reality for businesses that need, for example, to better understand their customers in order to best serve (and keep) them as loyal, satisfied, customers. Interpreting and acting upon gathered data can shine a light on problems, successes, and trends which may help a company make changes and decisions about future offerings, services, and products. The problem is that the data is, in many cases, so large that companies are struggling to figure out how to best use and analyze it.

Big Data is a business challenge—but it is bigger than that.


Bio Big Data

Science is no stranger to large data sets. Science, in fact, has been creating, gathering, and analyzing "large" data for years. What has changed and continues to change is that the amount of data continues to increase, and the tools available for extracting information from that data (or for processing the data) continue to evolve.

You can find examples of big data sets in many fields of science, including astronomy and meteorology, but for researchers in genetics, genomics, and biotechnology, dealing with big data is an important part of day-to-day projects. Luckily, there publicly available tools exist that allow researchers (including students) to plug in query information and extract results from big data sets. These tools make the data accessible. As the data continues to grow, scientists continue to develop new tools and projects that aim to better understand the data and that seek to find new answers and new approaches to analyzing big data.


The Human Genome Project

In the Life Sciences, the importance of big data and collective work toward central repositories of information can be seen in the Human Genome Project (HPG). A draft sequence was first published in 2000, and the completed sequence was released in 2003. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, the completed HGP "gave us the ability, for the first time, to read nature's complete genetic blueprint for building a human being."

The HGP was groundbreaking for life sciences, but more than a decade later, the data is still being mined and combined with additional data to draw new results and conclusions. The "What's Next? Turning Genomics Vision Into Reality" page on the NHGRI site describes several projects that build upon the HPG. For example, the ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project seeks to use HPG data to identify "all of the protein-coding genes, non-protein-coding genes and other sequence-based, functional elements contained in the human DNA sequence."

Though life sciences scientists are increasingly immersed in big data, the future will hold much more big data, data of (literally) mind-boggling proportions. For example, both the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative NeurotechnologiesSM (BRAIN) Initiative and the Human Brain Project are bioinformatics-driven big data projects focused on mapping the brain, an organ which has an estimated 86 billion neurons, each of which makes multiple connections.

With the creation of data sets like these underway, now is a great time for students to start digging into how to work with data sets, learning how to use existing tools, and gaining an understanding of the problems, issues, and possibilities of working with bioinformatics tools and big data.


Making Connections

Students interested in life sciences, genetics, genomics, or the challenges of Big Data can get in on the action with bioinformatics science projects like these:


Talking Big Data with Students at the USASEF X-STEM

On April 24, the X-STEM Extreme Stem Symposium, sponsored by Northrop Grumman Foundation and MedImmune, will take place as part of this year's USA Science & Engineering Festival (USASEF) in Washington D.C. With dozens of speakers presenting on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers, X-STEM promises to be an "extreme" and exciting science career-themed symposium for students.

At X-STEM, Melissa Rhoads, a biotechnology strategist at Lockheed Martin, will be talking to students about the "big" challenges and "big" opportunities of big data—and related career paths.

As a preview of her X-STEM talk, Science Buddies talked with Melissa about big data in general and, more specifically, in the life sciences. Her answers highlight the ways in which students are already immersed in big data and how the sciences will be more and more reliant on big data strategies in the future.

Science Buddies: The availability of public data sets in life sciences makes it possible for students to tackle exciting bioinformatics projects related to genetics, genomics, and biotechnology. How do you think tools like BLAST or the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Gene database have helped open things up for researchers, including students?


Melissa: Public data sets of life sciences are incredible resources for students and researchers alike. I liken these data sets to the open source software (OSS) that has been available for decades. OSS 'democratized' software development, providing the opportunity for students and small companies to develop code for personal use or sale. In recent years, for example, app development for smartphones has allowed students and professionals to develop capabilities for personal use or for sale.

Tool sets like BLAST and the NCBI databases are similarly democratizing life sciences. By making genetic data available to the public, independent researchers can build on previous work and, as you've mentioned, students can conduct their own research. With so much data available online, there are a host of opportunities for software development to help understand the data and for researchers to build on, rather than repeat, previous work.


Science Buddies: Today's students are coming onto the scene at a point when data sets are "already" big. What do you think is most important for students to understand about how big data is continuing to change—and what the challenges (or opportunities) are for life sciences moving forward?

Melissa: There is already an enormous amount of data, but not all data is created equal. I think students already have a reasonable grasp of the challenges and opportunities of big data, even if they don't realize it. From the flurry of updates, posts, pokes, and shares from social media to the thousands of results generated from online research, students must cull through masses of information and identify what is most important to them.

The amount of data will only continue to grow as more people contribute more information. The challenge and opportunity is first identifying truth, and then pulling the data you need and presenting this information in a way that suits your needs. There will be so many opportunities for students and professionals in a wide range of fields to help meet these needs of search, organization and presentation of data.


Science Buddies: What kinds of questions do you think scientists can continue to explore and better understand with the development of better bioinformatics tools for managing and visualizing big data?

Melissa: Better bioinformatics will help us answer questions from how to provide better healthcare to how to preserve species and understand climate change. Taking a very big picture view, our planet is full of living creatures that are complex in and of themselves and make up an even more complex network of relationships. By learning, capturing, and presenting information on the flora and fauna of the planet, we will be better able to feed, hydrate and care for humanity while maintaining or improving the environment.


Science Buddies: In the context of understanding biology what are the limitations of big data?

Melissa: Right now the computing power is really an issue when attempting to model biological processes. To really understand the mechanics of how our body works, there are so many parallel processes that even the fastest and most powerful computers are struggling, and as we learn more information, the computing power will need to increase exponentially.


Science Buddies: What kind of student will love big data and the world of bioinformatics?

Melissa: I believe the most exciting part of bioinformatics is that so many different fields are contributing to the field. Students interested in biology, chemistry, physics, computers, math, problem solving, or just being challenged will be able to contribute to the field. There are so many data sets that need analysis, and so much more that needs to be learned, that there are endless possibilities.


Science Career Profiles

Many STEM careers will involve working with big data, but students can learn more about a few specific careers that offer opportunities with big data in the following career profiles:



Special thanks to Melissa Rhoads. Melissa will be presenting at the USASEF X-STEM Extreme STEM Symposium on April 24 in Washington D.C.

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Take a sneak peak at an exciting pair of hands-on science and engineering activities that Science Buddies has planned for USASEF visitors and get inspired to make your own robots this week in celebration of National Robotics Week—or experiment with your own catapult project!

Bristlebots at USASEF in Science Buddies booth / hands-on robotics engineering


From National Robotics Week to This Month's USASEF Expo!

This week is National Robotics Week, a week dedicated to showcasing robotics engineering and "robo-technology." With the cartoon character Bleeker the rechargeable dog as mascot for the week and a set of free robotics trading cards that students can download and print, National Robotics Week is primed to engage and excite K-12 students about robotics.

Bleeker National Robotics Week Mascot
Above: Bleeker the rechargeable dog is the mascot for National Robotics Week.

Trying Toothbrush Robotics
To get started with toothbrush-head robots with your students at school or at home, see the following Science Buddies Project Ideas and posts:

The Science Buddies popular Robotics area continues to grow, and our scientists have been busy preparing a small army of toothbrush-based robots (AKA bristlebots) for hands-on fun at this month's USA Science and Engineering Festival (USASEF) Expo in Washington D.C. More than 3000 hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) demonstrations will be on display at the USASEF Expo, April 26 and 27, 2014. Attendance to the Expo is free, but you can pre-register to be entered to win prizes. For full details, Expo map and program guides, and more, see http://www.usasciencefestival.org/.

Look for Science Buddies in Hall C, the Earth Sciences Pavilion, Booth 3722. Mark your map—or your app!


Robotics for Everyone!

As a stepping-stone project in student robotics, bristlebot robots let students start out with something super basic—a toothbrush head, a single coin cell battery, and a vibrating motor—and expand the project to integrate additional electronics learning, including more sophisticated breadboard circuitry, light sensors, solar cells, photoresistors, multiple motors, on-off switches, and more.

At USASEF, visitors to the Science Buddies booth will get a chance to explore and race light-following robots through a fun maze that our scientists have built. Pairs of USASEF participants will race their bots against each other using small flashlights to try and guide their bots to the finish line first.

If you will be at USASEF next month, make sure you plan to stop by and give one of the light-following bristlebots a try. You can also make your own bristlebots at home using the procedure at Science Buddies in the Build a Light-Tracking Robot Critter project. (See sidebar for additional information.)


Ping Pong Balls Away!

USASEF attendees who stop by the Science Buddies Booth will also be able to test their launch skills by trying out the ping pong catapult. Getting the ball to the target takes a combination of physics and engineering. Students will explore concepts of trajectory, launch angle, and pullback strength as they test their aim and then record the outcome of each shot (their data) on a composite data map that tracks the hit statistics for all Expo attendees as a histogram. With three target zones ahead, can you set up the catapult to launch the ball in the middle zone to score accuracy points?

The ping pong catapult kit (available in the Science Buddies Store) can be used with the following fun hands-on Science Buddies science projects:




Science Buddies is a proud partner of the USA Science and Engineering Festival (USASEF).
2014USASEF-logo.jpg


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Soft Robots: Alternative Robot Design


Robotics engineers are experimenting with soft robots and robots modeled after biological organisms. With a squishy project at Science Buddies, students can get in on the action and test their own soft, air-powered, robot.

A recent story in MIT News shows off a cool robotic fish and highlights the softer side of robotics. This new wave of robotics research explores the benefits and possibilities of robots that sport softer, less angular exteriors, designs often inspired by biological systems and organisms.

Designers of soft robots, like the robotic fish developed by the Distributed Robotics Laboratory, take a different approach to constructing the robot's exoskeleton and thinking about how the robot will move and interact with its environment. For example, a soft robotic fish, modeled after a real fish, can bump into things in its environment differently than a more traditional hard and angular robot. A soft robot may also be able to navigate areas that a more rigid-bodied robot cannot, and a soft robot that runs into something may cause less harm and suffer less damage.


Making Connections

Students curious about robot design and about soft robots can get started exploring principles of soft robotics by making their own gripper robot. In the Squishy Robots: Build an Air-Powered Soft Robotic Gripper robotics engineering project, students use a 3D printed mold and liquid silicone rubber in the construction of a gripper that can curl around and "grip" an object. What advantages does this soft-bodied construction have over other kinds of robotic grippers?

procedural photos from soft robotics student engineering project
In the Squishy Robots robotics engineering project idea, students use a 3D printed mold to make a silicone robot that they then power by air to use as a gripper.

For a look at creating a more humanistic robotic hand, see the Grasping with Straws: Make a Robot Hand Using Drinking Straws project. Using straws, students are challenged to design and construct a robotic hand, with bendable appendages, that works using a system of threaded joints. How many "fingers" does a robotic hand need? At how many points does it need to bend? What mechanism will cause the hand to bend, move, and grip?

Understanding and identifying the need or task for a robot is important in making robot design decisions. What does the robot need to pick up? How small are the items? How heavy are they? What does it need to do with them once it has grabbed them? Other questions to ask involve where the robot will be used. A robot being used in an underwater environment, for example, will have very different design requirements.

These are questions and issues engineers must consider as part of the engineering process when designing a robot. Will the best solution be hard or soft? Experimenting to better understand how varying approaches work is a first step for students getting started with robotics.


Additional information:


April 5-13, 2014 is National Robotics Week!

Science Buddies Project Ideas in Robotics are supported by Symantec.

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Microbiology yeasty beasties science project / Hands-on science STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a microbiology-themed family science experiment and science fair project. What conditions cause yeasts to be most active during fermentation? You and your students can find out by growing yeasts in different conditions and then using balloons to trap the gas released by the yeasts during fermentation so that you can measure it.


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Music science experiment - turn straws into an instrument / Hand-on science STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a music-themed family science experiment and science fair project. With a set of ordinary drinking straws, you can create a group straw "oboes." Can you play them? Sure! By blowing air through them, similar to the way you play a reed instrument, you can produce musical notes. At the end of the activity, you should have a set of straws, each of which will play a different note on a musical scale. What is the secret to changing the note each one plays? In this music science experiment, your students will get a chance to explore (and hear) the physics behind the production of sound!


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Improvements in the Science Buddies Crystal Radio Kit make building a crystal radio a science project students may enjoy for the school science fair or just as an independent electronics experiment—no batteries required! Our scientists have worked to improve the kit and procedure for the best student science experience.

Crystal Radio Science Project Photos
Above: photos taken during a student crystal radio project experiment using the Build a Crystal Radio kit from the Science Buddies Store.

The crystal radio project was one of our first electronics projects beyond the color-coded snap-together circuits that crop up in many households when kids are little. My oldest student did the pencil resistors project as his very first school science fair project. He followed that up the next year with the Build Your Own Crystal Radio experiment. (Note: Both of these projects are ones he selected because they appeared in the list of recommendations after he used the Topic Selection Wizard.)


A Classic Experiment

The crystal radio project is frequently among the most popular electronics explorations at Science Buddies. It is, after all, a classic introductory electronics project. Plus, this is a hands-on science exploration that gets bonus points for novelty and wow-factor. A radio you can listen to without a battery? And, these days you might add, without a solar panel?

That's pretty nifty electronics for many kids, and after going through the steps of building something hands-on, you get to put it to the test and see what stations you can tune in. Any confusion over why this radio is called a "crystal" radio is quickly cleared up during background research. (Hint: "crystal" is related to the fact that a crystal diode, often a germanium diode, is at the heart of the circuit. Learn more about the history of crystal radio sets in this interview.)

There are many, many ways to assemble a crystal radio. The year my son did the project, the kit at Science Buddies was much different than the kit now sold in the Science Buddies Store. The project, too, was older and did not contain the abundance of photos to help guide the build the way the updated Project Idea does.


A New and Improved Kit and Scientist-guided Procedure

This year, the Crystal Radio Kit sold in the Science Buddies Store was updated to address some common stumbling blocks and user feedback from students and families who had built crystal radios using the earlier kit, materials they gathered independently, or other novelty or toy-store science kits. Along with the changes to the kit materials, the corresponding Project Idea and step-by-step procedure got a snazzy face lift. As the new kit made its way into the Science Buddies Store, we put a few of the procedural steps in action to see how the new kit and the old kit compare.

When my student built his crystal radio for the science fair, he ran into a bit of trouble making "taps," a fairly common approach in building a crystal radio. (After making a series of "taps" along the coil, you clip alligator clips to the taps to see what stations you can hear.) Unfortunately, to make those taps, you have to strip the coating from looped sections of wire after every so many wraps around the coil—while keeping the coil nice, tight, and in place. Depending on your materials, this procedure can work, but we had trouble.

My student ended up using a hodgepodge approach and breaking the wire at the loops, stripping the ends, and twisting them to form the taps—no loops in sight. It was an important learning step for my student because we had to troubleshoot to find a way, with the materials we had, to do what we needed to do. In trying to sort out how to rig another portion of the circuit, he learned a lot, too, about where the current goes and whether or not it matters if things are clipped together—or just touching.

In the end, his crystal radio worked. He dropped a ground wire out the bathroom window, tied it to a pole next to the house, and strung antenna throughout the house at ceiling level. Then he sat in the hallway, ceramic ear piece in his ear, and he tried out his taps to see what stations he could hear. The stations he picked up with his indoor antenna are not ones that will replace a stash of MP3s, but the experiment was a success—and a winner at the school science fair, too.

The old crystal radio kit worked, and he had a great time with the project. But building the crystal radio using the new kit was even easier!


A Classic Project Made Even Better

The entire project has been rewritten to use a new set of supplies that remove the hurdles and headaches that many students (and sometimes their parents) run into when trying a crystal radio project. In the new kit, there are no taps. Instead, the kit uses a thinner gauge wire, and once the coil is wrapped, students use a brass tuning rod to search for stations. Very cool!

Say goodbye to the ear piece, too. While an ear piece currently still comes in the Crystal Radio kit, the new kit contains a speaker/amplifier element that lets students hear stations much more easily.

Not only are the materials in the updated kit better, and higher quality than the ones you may find in the kinds of crystal radio kits in toy stores, but the revised procedure is loaded with awesome close-up photos that show the build, step by step. This is a great, easy-to-follow, electronics project, and the kit makes the process straightforward and hassle-free. (As a parent, I speak from experience! I took a printout of the original procedure to a local electronics store to pick up an extra spool of wire, got assistance from a clerk, and still came home with exactly the wrong kind of wire. Having the right materials in the box may make a big difference in how smoothly a student science project goes!)

If your student is looking for a fun science project or a great at-home project for spring break or summer building, consider the Crystal Radio. It's a great stepping stone into the next level of electronics!


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