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A magic milk rainbow may be all about what's happening at the surface level between milk and soap, but when kids create the magic, the learning excitement is palpable. For Lily Arendt, hands-on science activities are a great way to help kids uncover the magic of science. We couldn't agree more!

Lily Arendt and a class of students explore surface tension with a Milk Rainbow science activity.
Above: Lily Arendt and a class of students explore surface tension with the Make a Milk Rainbow science activity.


For Lily Arendt, a biology student at DePaul University in Chicago and a participant on the Miss America beauty pageant circuit, engaging students, especially girls, with science and inspiring them to ask science questions and experiment to find answers is an issue she's putting front and center both as her pageant platform and with students in her hometown.

Lily recently took the Science Buddies Make a Milk Rainbow activity, part of the brand new Science Buddies Activities area, into fifth and sixth grade classrooms in Green Bay, Wisconsin to bring cool chemistry into the classroom and give students a chance to get hands-on with some awe-inspiring science.

After spending time with students in four different classes, Lily says the kids' enthusiastic response to the milk rainbow experiment was unanimous. "I was thrilled to see that all four classes were equally excited about the experiment!"

The project involves the reaction between food dye, dish soap, and milk. With these simple ingredients, four individual drops of food coloring can be mixed and swirled into a rainbow or a spin-art-style display by touching a cotton-tipped swab dipped in soap to the surface of the milk. The science of surface tension and surfactants helps demystify what is going on, but it looks a lot like magic when the colors begin to move away from the swab even though they were not touched. This is a colorful science experiment that is sure to bring oohs and ahhs.

Lily says she, too, was wowed when she first tried out the milk rainbow experiment. "I was just as impressed with the movement of the food coloring as the kids were! I definitely believe this experiment has an element of science 'magic' that all ages would enjoy."

In the classroom activity, Lily helped the students set up the demonstration, and then she stepped back, letting the kids get hands on to see what happened as they, not a teacher, touched the swab to the surface of the milk. A swab with nothing on it caused the milk to behave one way. But a swab dipped in soap caused something entirely different to happen! This kind of active learning can be incredibly empowering for students who think science is something that happens in a lab somewhere by real scientists.

Supplementing science education with opportunities for active learning is what Science Buddies project ideas and now science activities are all about. With great ideas and blueprints for science experiments scaled for independent study or fun family weekends, Science Buddies is helping students, teachers, and parents take an active role in science exploration at home or at school.

It's a perspective on science that Lily shares.

"After taking many lecture-based science classes throughout my education," says Lily, "I've realized how disengaging it can be to simply listen to someone tell you the cool things about science. The thing I love about science is that it does have that 'wow' factor, and students, especially in elementary and middle school, should have the opportunity to experience science in their own way! Doing a hands-on experiment may just be what it takes to ignite that spark between a student and a love for science."

Not only did they enjoy the chemistry experiment, but the fifth and sixth grade students Lily worked with were excited to go home and share the experiment with friends and family. In re-telling or re-creating the experiment at home, they continue to process and absorb what they learned, articulate it, and pass on the fun.

In the classroom, Lily spent time talking with students about science careers, showed them how the Topic Selection Wizard works, and looked at sample Project Ideas that came up as "recommendations" for an individual student.

"When I discovered the Topic Selection Wizard on the website, I knew I needed to share it with the students," says Lily. "I wish I had had this resource when I was doing my elementary and middle school science experiments and even when I was first looking into a science career!"

A popular tool on the Science Buddies website, the Topic Selection Wizard helps match students with science projects in which they might be especially interested—based on their responses to a simple questionnaire. Many times, students uncover a perfect project using the Topic Selection Wizard that they might not have discovered by just browsing the directory of projects.

"The school I visited does have a wonderful science fair every year," says Lily, "and scrolling through the recommended projects, I know there were many experiments that caught the students' eyes."

For Lily, time spent in the classroom helping connect kids with the "magic" and wonder of science is time well spent. Lily says she has always been interested in science. Even as a kid, she says she enjoyed both doctor and dentists appointments because the doctors would explain the science behind what they were doing.

Lily also fondly remembers her 4th grade science fair project. "It was called 'Which will float: the ball or the boat?'," says Lily. "I had shaped multicolored clay into both a round ball and a concave boat shape and placed them in a tub of water to see what they would do. I definitely wish I had had Science Buddies as a tool when I was in 4th grade, but I remember demonstrating the experiment to my friends and loving the fact that I had come up with the experiment all on my own!"

Her childhood fascination with science blossomed into career goals when she took AP biology in high school. Today, Lily is studying biology at DePaul while working to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education as part of her pageant platform.

"My pageant platform is called 'Women in Science: Exceeding the Boiling point,' and I chose this title because that is exactly what I want to encourage young women to do—to exceed the expectations placed on them in the sciences! Currently in the United States, only 25% of the available STEM careers are filled by women, and in a country where science and technology is valued so highly, that is truly a shame. I believe an interest in science starts at a young age, and young women need female role models to demonstrate to them that it's okay to love the sciences and that it is possible to become a confident, successful woman with a science career! I am so happy to have found Science Buddies, and I look forward to using it as a resource to encourage young women to pursue the sciences."

With up-and-coming scientists like Lily speaking out to girls and going into classrooms to show students that science is there, within reach, and full of magic and fun, there is hope for more and more students to embrace the sciences. Science Buddies is proud to support the process and to provide materials that help mentors, volunteers, parents, and teachers bring science to life for students—just like Lily did for students in Green Bay.

Above: Getting hands-on with a science activity like Make a Milk Rainbow helps bring science to life for students.


See our overview of the new Science Buddies Science Activities area.

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Symantec employees in multiple locations put a set of Science Buddies Project Ideas to a hands-on test. This team meeting may have felt like a day at school, but by working together to build and test simple motors and shake-it-up energy sources, Symantec volunteers helped Science Buddies make sure that a set of new student science and engineering projects were all set for students. As the volunteers discovered, working through an electronics science project, even one aimed at 4th-6th grade students, can be challenging—but fun!


Symantec volunteers test science kits
Symantec volunteers test science kits

At Science Buddies, we are fortunate to have the support of a range of corporate donors like Symantec, sponsors who join us in our dedication to helping K-12 students enjoy and excel in science—and helping their teachers and parents support and encourage science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning. Science Buddies offers more than 1,200 hands-on Project Ideas and thousands of pages of resources for teachers, parents, and students working on science fair, classroom, at-home, or independent science projects and activities.

With changing school curricula (and the adoption of Next-Generation Science Standards (NGSS)), more and more attention is being given to hands-on science and engineering projects, and members of the Science Buddies community turn to Science Buddies as a trusted source of quality procedures for hands-on learning.


Hands-on Support for Hands-on Science Education

Thanks to financial support from sponsors like Symantec, our site resources remain free to use for the more than 15 million students, teachers, and parents who visit Science Buddies each year for assistance locating a science project, following the steps of the scientific or engineering method, finding science activities to do at home, or integrating active science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning in the classroom.

Empowering students and exciting them about science requires the involvement of many, many people and organizations. Science Buddies is fortunate to have volunteers from sponsor companies who assist in our online Ask an Expert forums and who help support science literacy in their own communities by judging at local science fair judges.

When a group of employees at Symantec selected Science Buddies for a team-building day of volunteer service, Science Buddies was excited to have a group of extra hands to test a set of new electronics and electricity projects and kits.


Quality Science Project Ideas

Before Project Ideas at Science Buddies reach students, they go through multiple rounds of editing, peer review, and hands-on testing by our in-house team of scientists and editors. The Science Buddies team works hard to ensure that students are given solid background material, a complete materials list, and a well-explained step-by-step procedure that will lead students to measurable and clear results appropriate for the project's level of difficulty and complexity.

When possible, having projects tested by other adults or students, provides additional information about the projects and may help identify areas in need of clarification or areas where additional visual aids or resources would be beneficial. Having Symantec offer to have more than thirty employees work in groups and help test three different electronics project was a wonderful opportunity for the scientists at Science Buddies to gather additional data about the usability, repeatability, and clarity of these new projects.


Symantec Employees Choose Science Buddies for Day of Service

In December, Symantec employees gathered at offices in California, Florida, Oregon, and Singapore to pretend for the morning that they were students or parents presented with a science project to work through. All the materials were on hand, so the volunteers were asked to read through the background material and then follow the procedure provided, just as a student would.

Not all volunteers had technical backgrounds, which is perfect for project testing. The projects were all targeted for students in grades 5-8, and students choosing these projects would not necessarily approach the project with any prior electronics experience. Similarly, when a parent assists a student with elements of a science project, the parent may or may not have any expertise in the area of the science project. Having employees and adult volunteers sit down and work through the steps of an experimental procedure helps Science Buddies ensure that the project directions are clear, that all necessary steps are provided, and that the projects work as they are written.

"Giving people instructions is full of hidden pitfalls," acknowledges Sandra Slutz, Lead Scientist for Science Buddies. "Things that seem crystal clear and easy when you are doing them can be challenging to explain. Imagine telling someone who has never cooked before how to cook rice. They need so many specific directions. What does 'high' heat mean? What does a simmer look like? How long should it cook? The list goes on. When you write instructions, it is easy to overlook something that seems obvious to you. That is why we feel so incredibly lucky when we have multiple teams of people testing a project. Each team comes at it with a different set of experiences, so they can catch completely different oversights. In the end, we take their feedback and use it to make a much better set of instructions so that students can have a successful science project experience."

During their morning of volunteer testing, many of the Symantec volunteer teams successfully completed their projects, but a few ran out of time or encountered problems executing the procedure. While it can be frustrating for a volunteer (or a student or parent) to have a project "not work," knowing where problems occur helps Science Buddies strengthen the materials to provide an even better experience for the students who may ultimately select the project for a school fair or assignment.

"The Symantec teams tackled the projects we gave them wholeheartedly, and we're very grateful for all their feedback," says Slutz. "Some teams actually ran into a lot of trouble and didn't complete their project—but for us this wasn't a failure, it was successful testing. That feedback allowed us to go back and re-evaluate our instructions. It turned out that something simple we had overlooked in two of the projects (the width of the tape used to wrap a component) made a huge difference in how the project performed. Symantec's team testing helped us uncover that problem. Thanks to them, we've clarified our materials list—a change that will save students hours of frustration!"

Kristen Woods, Senior Director at Symantec Corporation, organized the volunteer event for her team. According to Woods, she suggested Science Buddies to her team instead of a more traditional volunteer activity because "the work supports one of Symantec's core philanthropy areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education, and because the format of the work allowed us to conduct the event in multiple sites globally."

Ashley Savageau, Community Relations Program Manager at Symantec, agrees that the volunteer testing was a great opportunity for Symantec employees to get hands-on with one of the organizations the company supports.

"I was thrilled the team chose to develop an activity with Science Buddies," says Savageau. "They are a long time partner of Symantec's, so it helped cement that commitment by providing our employees' skills in addition to our corporate dollars. I also loved the fact this was able to happen across multiple geographies to help with virtual team building! The team reported that they really enjoyed doing something that supported the company's values and was different than the average volunteer event, and that they even learned something along the way!"

"Working with Symantec to help create a meaningful, STEM-related Day of Service for the volunteers was a great experience," says Amy Cowen, Online Community Manager and Volunteer Coordinator for Science Buddies. "We are grateful to have had financial support from Symantec for a number of years, but opportunities to have their employees help in hands-on ways are wonderful."

"The project testing Symantec provided was a learning experience for Science Buddies as well," adds Cowen. "We are excited to take what we learned about facilitating team testing in the workplace to create new volunteer opportunities for sponsor companies in the future."


Science Buddies Project Ideas in computer science are sponsored by Symantec Corporation.

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Hands-on engineering doesn't always require high-tech materials. Armed with a stack of paper and the steps to folding a basic dart airplane, a volunteer leads a paper airplane station at a local science exposition and realizes, with surprise, that folding planes isn't something all kids know how to do! With guidance, paper airplane folding can lead to some far-flying—and fun—aerodynamics exploration.

paper airplane hands-on science / Mary Raven demonstrates basic dart folding at science fair
paper airplane hands-on science / student compares plane styles
Above top: Mary Raven demonstrates folding a basic dart paper airplane at a local Girls Inc. science fair. Bottom: Mary's daughter prepares to launch and test a different plane. How will it fly compared to a dart—and why?


Hands-on Science at Home, School, or After School!

Folding paper airplanes is a great way for students to experiment with core concepts like lift, drag, and thrust. The following science Project Ideas bundle hands-on aerodynamics exploration with paper airplane fun:

Along with origami fortune tellers and, these days, origami Star Wars finger puppets, paper airplanes are a seemingly eternal and archetypal pastime, a folding activity with a tangible outcome—a plane you can throw across the room or, accidentally, at a sibling. Right? Maybe. Maybe not.


When Dr. Mary Raven, Microscopy Facility Director at the Neuroscience Research Institute and Neuroscience Research Institute & department of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, volunteered at her daughter's after-school program's annual science fair, she set up a paper airplane station so that the girls could experiment with the aerodynamics and physics of different plane designs. To get the most out of a hands-on comparative plane folding experiment, the kids folding the planes need to be comfortable with basic folding steps. Mary assumed most of the girls would have some history with paper airplanes. To her surprise, she discovered that folding paper airplanes was not something with which all the girls had experience. In the end, the girls that visited Mary's station at the Girls Inc. science fair got a crash course in basic folding, a fun dose of engineering, a nifty takeaway (paper airplane), and a great hands-on science experience.


Science After School

Mary's daughter, now in fourth grade, has been attending a local Girls Inc. after-school program since kindergarten, and Mary has been volunteering, each year, to lead a hands-on exploration with the girls at the science fair. According to Mary, science is typically part of the program schedule at Girls Inc., and when students request their top choice classes, engaging science-themed options like a Mad Scientist club are part of the available offering. But science really heats up with the yearly science expo when the girls get hands-on with a wide range of science and engineering activities.

"When you think science fair, you might think girls calmly presenting their projects" says Mary. "But the Girls Inc. science fair is more of a hands-on science show. Imagine 150 excited girls aged 5-12 running from station to station, and you have our Girls Inc. science fair."

At the science fair, various exploratory stations are set up for the girls to cycle through. This year, Mary says the stations included a math station, one focused on earthquakes, one on rocket launchers, one on hand washing (and visualizing germs with Glo Germ), a microscope-based station, and one featuring an iguana. The diverse offerings give the girls the chance to experience a number of different areas of science—who knows what might catch a young girl's imagination and spark lifelong interest—but as Mary can attest, 150 participants cycling through a hands-on science activity can be a challenge!

"I don't work with children for a living, and having one girl at home in no way prepares you for the experience of 150 excited girls asking every question imaginable," admits Mary. "I've tried several projects with the girls (prism optics, sun-prints, brain dissections), and I'm usually disappointed in my ability to share anything meaningful with a mass of swarming girls."

This year, Mary spotted a project at Science Buddies and thought it might be perfect for the science fair. "When I saw the experiment How Far Will It Fly? Build & Test Paper Planes with Different Drag posted on Science Buddies, I thought, 'hey, that looks like it might adapt to the wild of the Girls Inc. science fair.'"


Preparing for Hands-on Science with Kids

Having selected her activity for the fair, Mary spent time determining how best to convert the science "project" (something written with a single student performing a science experiment in mind) into a short-term hands-on activity that girls could do on the spot. When converting a full-scale project to an immediate and short-term activity, understanding both the audience and the main science concepts you want to get across is important. You want to craft the activity in such a way that the students are engaged and that there is a clear scientific takeaway.

Knowing in advance that girls would cycle through at varying times and that those at her station would all be in various stages of the activity at the same time, Mary planned ahead. She first made a poster that showed the basic steps for folding a simple dart plane. "I have learned the girls don't stop to read words," says Mary, "but I thought the examples might help."

She then gathered supplies: a stack of paper, a ruler, tape, scissors, and a clipboard for recording results. "I marked off the gym in 5 foot increments," says Mary, "and then with my poster board set up and papers at the ready, I waited for the girls to appear." Mary was ready, but she hadn't counted on the fact that not all of the girls had folded planes before. Even with the steps for folding a dart plane on the poster, folding the plane proved a challenge for some of the girls. "The first few girls trickled into the gym, and I quickly learned I was going to be walking the girls through folding the planes."

On the spot, Mary had to adapt and refocus her hands-on engineering activity. Testing multiple plane designs might not be possible; certainly, building three different planes with each girl was out of the question, says Mary. "I was a little surprised at how unfamiliar the girls were at folding paper. I was also a little disturbed to learn they called lengthwise folds 'hot dog' and widthwise folds 'hamburger,'" recalls Mary. Still, Mary and the girls stuck with it. "Some of the girls wanted me to fold [the plane] for them, but I think folding is a great 3D spatial skill, and using their own hands was important."

Despite the rocky start, "all the girls were able to fold a plane with help," says Mary. Not only were they able to fold a plane, but they were excited when they finished their planes. The immediate satisfaction of the project was evident for the girls who struggled through plane folding at Mary's station. "They were thrilled at how well the dart flew once it was complete."


Putting the Science in the Air

Rather than building multiple planes each, each girl flew her plane three times, and they took measurements and determined the average. Mary then guided the girls in modifying their original plane. "We added flaps in the back, and I asked the girls what they thought the flaps would do to the plane. None of the girls were certain what would happen, but when they tested the plane, they quickly realized the plane didn't fly well at all," says Mary. "They were able to deduce that the flaps were somehow blocking the airflow, and some girls realized that unfolding the flaps restored the plane's flying capability. I thought that was a great result!"

"I think making the planes was empowering for the girls," says Mary. "It gave them a tool to experiment with. They were excited to try flying it and to determine the best way to launch it. As much as I like the data collection and analysis part of the experiment, my favorite part was how the girls seemed to understand the manipulation. The concept of drag wasn't something they had heard of, and it isn't something they were likely to pick-up from a diagram. Still, after a couple of plane flights, they had a mental image."

And that's what it's all about, seeing the science in action, the cause and effect, the principles of science, like drag, and realizing that changing just one variable can make a dramatic difference. For Mary, this year's event was eye-opening, but she is happy with how it turned out and happy with the project she used as the basis for her activity. "I liked the aerodynamics (activity) because it is mostly hands-on interactive time, and the girls had something they could keep (the plane). Waiting is a killer in this format, and they love having something to take home."

"Overall, I'm very happy with the results although I still haven't achieved my vision of somehow ordering the disorder at my science fair table. If I had 4 volunteers, maybe?"


The Importance of a Single Volunteer and Role Model

We can't wait to see what Mary tries at next year's science fair, but we are sure that the girls who passed through her station this year benefited from having an interested adult take time to demonstrate, explain, guide, and encourage them to explore, question, and hypothesize.

"I think it is really important that the girls have contact with female scientist and engineers (or any scientist/engineer)," notes Mary. "Girls are very influenced by the female role models in their life. If you ask them why they are considering the career choice they are exploring, it is usually a female role model or relative that leads them to consider the option."


Note: After the fair, Mary suggested to the after-school program that enrichment programs in origami or in plane folding might be a great addition to the offerings. Do your kids and students fold paper airplanes now and again? If not, or if you are not sure, open up the basic dart instructions and grab a stack of paper. There are planes to be folded!

Interested in supporting and encouraging girls in science and engineering at home, in the classroom, or at a local school? See also: "Girls Explore Engineering with Marble Run Challenge" and "Encouraging and Inspiring Female Student Engineers."




Science Buddies Project Ideas in aerodynamics & hydrodynamics are supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.

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The Call of the Crystal Radio


Ask an engineer if she has ever built a crystal radio, and chances are you will get a story—one with all the makings of a classic when it comes to garage engineering and adolescence. Students often build a crystal radio as a first step in engineering and electronics—or as a middle school science fair project. If they have questions or need assistance troubleshooting their "set," they may be lucky enough to get assistance from Rick Marz, a seasoned engineer with an enduring affinity for crystal sets and a commitment to passing his expertise on to students.


Crystal Radio Set diagram from 1920s
The Golden Age of Radio

The diagram above is from a 1920s publication distributed to teach the general public how to make their own simple and inexpensive radio. Using wire and a common cardboard container, students can create a similar crystal set as a science project. For aspiring student engineers, a crystal radio exploration is a great hands-on project and may be a stepping stone into other electronics and engineering investigations. A convenient Science Buddies kit is available for this science project!

Crystal Radio Science Project Kit

Building Your First Crystal Set is Just the Beginning

Once your crystal radio is built, put it to the test! There are many variables you can manipulate to gain a better understanding of how the receiver works and how sound waves from the AM spectrum are picked up by your set. Students looking to extend a crystal radio exploration might consider adding a capacitator. What advantages will this bring?

AM Radio Transmitter science project kit

Sending and Receiving

Students interested in radio may also enjoy building and testing their own AM radio transmitter based on the "Make Your Own Low-Power AM Radio Transmitter" Project Idea.

Have you built a crystal radio or the low-power AM transmitter? Share your photos with the Science Buddies community!

One of Science Buddies' perennially popular electronics investigations is the "Crystal Radio" project. The allure of using a few basic materials to create a functional AM radio that requires no electricity or power supply is irresistible for many student engineers. This isn't simply a rote exercise in wiring a simple circuit to see a light bulb go on and off. Instead, by wrapping a canister (similar to one left over from a month's worth of oatmeal) with wire and completing a circuit that uses both a resistor and a small diode, you can create a basic AM radio.

Building a crystal radio set is a project that taps a young engineer's DIY love of hands-on wiring and offers a functional product in the end—a classic win-win. Granted, you won't toss your stereo or MP3 player out the window in favor of a crystal radio. But, if constructed properly, you can tune in to local AM radio stations as a result of learning more about modulation, radio waves, alternating (AC) and direct (DC) currents, diodes, and semiconductors.


A Hallmark of Engineering Exploration

Many engineers have a soft spot for crystal radio science projects. Whether they recall wiring their own crystal radio set and seeing their first semiconductor in action, or, like Rick Marz, grew up in a time when radio was a primary source of entertainment and hands-on engineering, crystal radios may be a rite of passage in the field of electronics.

Retired after forty-five years in the semiconductor business, Rick is a long-time volunteer at Science Buddies and part of the team of volunteer Experts who help assist students and parents in the Ask an Expert (AAE) forums. As an Expert at AAE, Rick has helped hundreds of students with questions about their electronics and engineering projects, including popular projects like the "Electrolyte Challenge," "Spin Right 'Round with this Simple Electric Motor," "Shaking Up Some Energy," "Is This Connected to That?" and "Build Your Own Crystal Radio."

Rick enjoys helping students with a wide range of electronics and engineering questions in the forums, but he has a particular fondness for crystal radio investigations and a history with crystal radio that goes back more than fifty years. By his own estimate, Rick says he is one of the last of a small group of crystal radio experts.


Witness to an Epoch

Having spent forty-five years in the semiconductor business, Rick has been a part of the industry from its beginnings in the 1960s. "At a recent semiconductor alumni dinner," says Rick, "we calculated that we had witnessed 99.8% of the growth of the entire semiconductor, computer and communication industry during our career." As it turns out, his interest began well before there even was an industry.

"Maybe I exaggerated a bit when I claimed to be the 'last of a small group' of crystal set experts, but I don't think I'm too far off," says Rick. "I grew up before television existed, and the radio in every home was the sole source of connected entertainment and the source of much of the outside information we received." For today's students, imagining the world before smart phones, MP3 players, and always-connected devices is often difficult; imagining the realities of life before TV may be even more unfathomable. But TVs didn't become staple items in most U.S. households until the mid-1950s (or later). Prior to that, the radio took center stage as both a pivotal source of information and a beacon for family entertainment. The radio was so central to American life that the period between the 1920s and 1950s is referred to as the Golden Age of Radio.

"The radio was a focal point in every family living room," recalls the engineer. "Music, fictional characters and stories, serial adventures, comedy, and world news on the radio were an important part of growing up," says Rick. "I still remember hours of listening to shows in the darkened living rooms of my grandparents' and parents' houses."


Childhood Curiosity

Rick traces his interest in electronics to an initial curiosity about radio in general. "My interest in radio, and what made it work, started at an early age, probably around 7 or 8." Not only was the radio a prominent device in his house, but the radio was also tied to family history for Rick. "I had heard stories from my grandparents that, as a child, my father constructed many crystal sets of his own in the 1930's using wooden pencils. I was fascinated and soon started to build similar radios using a pencil as the coil form and locating the 'cat's whisker' galena crystal detector at the end of the pencil where the eraser was. A suitable antenna and ground completed a working receiver."

Those pencil-based receivers were among the first Rick explored in a series of crystal sets that spanned many years. "I can't remember my first crystal set exactly, although I do recall that it used the galena crystal and a coil wound on a cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper." Once completed, tested, and evaluated by the young engineer, those first sets were upcycled and reused. A collection of completed sets wasn't an option. "One of the things you did to build your second radio," explains Rick, "was to cannibalize the first."


Tuning In

In his mid-western hometown, there were only four AM radio stations, and he needed earphones to pick up the faint signals transmitted, but it was enough. He was hooked. His early crystal radio experiments fueled an interest Rick satisfied by building hundreds of crystal radio variations through the years, a number he says is not an exaggeration. Supplementing his burgeoning interest in engineering was the fact that crystal radio construction was a common science exploration for kids. "During that period, crystal sets were important chapters in Cub Scout construction projects," recalls Rick. "You could buy the familiar parts like the PhilmoreTM galena crystal/whisker assembly in hardware and department stores," he says, adding that even "the comic books of the time always had a page or two of ads for crystal set kits."

Always on the lookout for ways to extend, modify, or innovate upon the core concept of a crystal radio set, Rick says he built some models based on "inspiration from the regular tech magazines of the day, Popular Science, Science and Mechanics, Popular Mechanics, etc." In other models, Rick tested out his own ideas for ways to enhance or improve performance. "A lot of component substitution went hand-in-hand with what I thought must be R&D at the time," notes Rick. "There were very few options to building a basic crystal set, so most of the variants were in coil design/construction and antenna/ground choices." For a young engineer, the quest to find new materials that might work was part of the challenge and part of the fun. "I remember visiting radio and TV repair shops and asking to go through their discards looking for usable components."

No matter how many sets he built, the allure of a better set persisted. Crystal radio gets its name from the use of the early galena crystal, but as new and alternative materials became more available, Rick was able to extend his electronics experiments and enjoy the benefits of advancing technology—at a price. He remembers buying his first germanium transistor in 1956, a Raytheon CK722. "I was 12 years old, and the transistor cost over $7. A fortune at that time. Half a summer of savings."

Once you had a new part, you put it to use, says Rick. "By the mid 1950's, early germanium diodes like the 1N34A became available at low prices for hobbyists. You might save an allowance for weeks to buy one and then use it over and over in place of the galena crystal/cat's whisker that had to be tediously 'probed' to find a sensitive spot that would rectify the radio signal and yield the audio component of the AM broadcast." Diodes brought new sophistication for set builders, and today's students commonly use a small germanium diode, not unlike the one Rick first sampled in the 1950s, in their crystal radio sets.


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Rick Marz, crystal radio expert and a volunteer in the Ask an Expert forums

Lifelong Passion

Even after decades in engineering, years in which technology has changed dramatically, Rick's interest in crystal radio has not waned. Following his early interest in engineering, and building off of his father's interest in radio, Rick first explored power electronics and then computer hardware. He studied electrical engineering in college and, in the way things sometimes work, his first career opportunity brought him full circle. "My first job out of school was with a company in Pennsylvania that built—what else—germanium and silicon diodes." Germanium diodes were used as video detectors in early televisions. As the TV industry grew, Rick says the company produced over a million germanium diodes a week to supply the demand. "That's a lot of diodes. Enough to keep any number of crystal set builders supplied forever! I still have a few small drawers full of them for old time's sake."


Passing It On

Though the parts no longer require a whole summer's earnings, Rick continues to enjoy both the history and the tinkering that a crystal radio set invites. He shares his knowledge, expertise, and interest with students who undertake a crystal radio exploration for a science fair, a school project, or as a weekend activity at home. "Several years ago I acquired the parts to create an elegant crystal set that really would be an office conversation piece. It is probably time to get it out of the garage and build it for my grandchildren."



Thanks to support from Motorola Solutions Foundation, the Ask an Expert forums are available, free of charge, to all students and parents needing assistance with a science or engineering project.

Interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities with Science Buddies?
Visit sciencebuddies.org/volunteer

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Exceptional Science Buddies Volunteer Expert from Bio-Rad Laboratories assists hundreds of students with science projects. Her dedication to helping students exemplifies the volunteer spirit—and makes a difference in how students view and experience science.


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Congratulations to Donna Hardy of Bio-Rad Laboratories!

Donna Hardy (pictured above) has been named Science Buddies Volunteer of the Year in recognition, especially, for her service in the Ask an Expert forums.


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(Image: Bigstock)

The Science Buddies Ask an Expert forums offer personalized help to K-12 students, teachers, and parents with questions about science fair projects. From fielding questions about formulating hypotheses to helping with the identification of variables to troubleshooting an experimental procedure, our volunteer Experts help make science projects less frustrating and more rewarding. With each student we help at Ask an Expert, we foster enthusiasm for science and increase science literacy. If you are interested in learning more about volunteering with Science Buddies, visit sciencebuddies.org/volunteer.

The new school year is underway, which means students and teachers are already talking about science fairs and science projects, proposing science questions that might be asked, and putting steps of the scientific and engineering methods into action. Millions of students, teachers, and parents visit Science Buddies each year, and we are proud to continue to offer free science resources, including more than 1,000 scientist-authored Project Ideas, designed to make hands-on science exploration a positive experience at all levels.

Science Buddies works closely with its corporate sponsors to encourage and facilitate volunteerism, and our volunteer program makes it easy for employees to contribute in meaningful ways. Each year, volunteers join us in our mission to encourage, increase, and support science literacy. Many of these volunteers, professionals in a diverse range of scientific fields, join our My Science Buddies community and assist with tasks that help us maintain the high quality students, teachers, and parents expect from our resources. Other volunteers help in our Ask an Expert forums, assisting with science questions throughout the year. Others join our cause by volunteering as science fair judges in their local communities, spreading the word about Science Buddies, testing science Project Ideas with their colleagues or families, or assisting with the development of new resources. We are thankful for the time all of our volunteers give to Science Buddies.


An Outstanding Volunteer

Today, we are proud to recognize Donna Hardy of Bio-Rad Laboratories as our 2012 Volunteer of the Year. Donna has been volunteering as an Expert in the Ask an Expert forums since 2005. In that time, she has helped hundreds of students and parents with science project questions. Every year, we hear from students who have gone on to succeed with science projects at school or at a local fair. Many of these stories include mention of assistance they received from Donna in the forums.

Whether a student needs help choosing a project, is having trouble formulating a hypothesis, needs guidance in analyzing her data, or is looking for advice on presenting results, Donna offers thorough, supportive, and encouraging advice. Some students ask a question, receive an answer, and then move on to complete their projects. But many students return for ongoing support, and Donna works with them throughout the process, often doing additional research, helping them procure access to background materials, and working well beyond the typical weekly time commitment for volunteers in the Ask an Expert.

Students struggling with their science projects, or unsure how to get started, receive invaluable advice from Donna. At the same time, Donna has assisted numerous students with advanced science projects, mentoring the students through high-caliber explorations that have gone on to be presented at fairs like the Contra Costa Science & Engineering Fair (CCCSEF) and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF).

"I could not have completed the project if it weren't for all the support I received from Ask an Expert and Donna, and the project would not have received the awards that it did," said Matthew, a student recently profiled at Science Buddies for his investigation of acne treatments. Similarly, Naima, a student in Canada, cites her long-term mentorship with Donna in the forums as critical to her project's success. "I do not live in a university town, and I did not have the opportunity to work in a laboratory or interact with professors," explains Naima. Through the Ask an Expert forums, Donna helped guide Naima through a sophisticated exploration of biofuel and renewable energy. "Although I was confined to my basement as my lab, Donna was incredible in helping me understand the background concepts behind my project, helping me develop the advanced chemistry procedure, helping me analyze odd results, suggesting improvements on my scientific report, and overall helping me complete the project within my location and budget constraints." Naima went on to present her work at the Canada Wide Science Fair.

When a second-grade student put Squanto's advice on using fish as a fertilizer to the test on his family farm, he and his family turned to Ask an Expert for help defining the procedure and then presenting the results. And when a high school student in Danville, CA was working on her advanced project, "The Effect of Deer Antler on the Proliferation of Endothelial Cells in vitro," she, too, got input from Donna and went on to present at the 2012 Intel ISEF. These are just a few of the many students Donna has assisted.

"Donna is an extraordinary volunteer in the Ask an Expert forums," says Amy Cowen, Science Buddies Online Community Manager and Volunteer Coordinator. "If I could clone a volunteer to help at Ask an Expert, I would clone Donna," she continues. "Donna always goes above and beyond the call of duty, providing complete, helpful, and encouraging responses to questions at both ends of the spectrum. When it comes to helping field student questions, Donna seems to have perfect pitch. In addition to Ask an Expert, I know Donna volunteers in her own community as a judge at local science fairs, and she has helped with various other volunteer projects at Science Buddies, including helping us evaluate our top student mentors and reviewing submissions for last year's chemistry contest. She's a wonderful example of our volunteer team, and I am very happy to see her contributions recognized."

Vice President Courtney Corda added, "Donna is, and always has been, an outstanding mentor. I feel very lucky that Donna has given Science Buddies and all the students we serve the gift of her time. I'm sure that having talented, caring volunteers like Donna is one of the factors that helped Science Buddies earn the SPORE prize from the journal Science and that helped Scientific American and NOVA choose Science Buddies for outreach partnerships. Donna is a great role model. We really can't thank her enough. We are honored to present her with our Volunteer of the Year award."





Science Buddies Project Ideas in Biotechnology Techniques are supported by Bio-Rad Laboratories and its Biotechnology Explorer Program.

Biotechnology Explorer

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Annual Science Buddies award recognizes outstanding student mentor contributions in the Ask an Expert forums. Two high school students from New York receive this year's honors.


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Reshma Mir (top) and Grace Kim (bottom) received first and second place Craig Sander Outstanding Mentor awards for their help in the Ask an Expert forums this year.



Ask an Expert: A Community of Volunteers Helping with K-12 Science Questions

Ask an Expert is a free online forum that enables students and families to get assistance with science projects. Our team of volunteer "Experts" is comprised of adults from science and engineering fields and top high school students. These Experts work together to help troubleshoot experimental procedures, guide students who are having difficulty finding or narrowing a topic, and assist with questions about data and results. At any step of the scientific method or engineering design process, students can post a question at Ask an Expert and receive quality help from our team of adult professionals and student mentors.

We will begin scheduling and recruiting volunteers for the 2012-2013 season of Ask an Expert in August. If you are interested, please contact volunteer@sciencebuddies.org. For additional information about Science Buddies' volunteer opportunities, including short-term activities in our Micro-Volunteer program, visit sciencebuddies.org/volunteer.

Reshma Mir and Grace Kim, both eleventh grade students in New York, have been named this year's top student mentors in the Science Buddies Ask an Expert volunteer program.The Craig Sander Outstanding Mentor Award, established in honor of Science Buddies' advisory board member Craig Sander, recognizes superior student contribution in the Ask an Expert forums. Both Reshma and Grace demonstrated impressive skills in assisting with a range of student science questions at Ask an Expert during the 2011-2012 school year. As first and second-place recipients of the award, Reshma and Grace each received a cash scholarship.

Reshma Mir


Reshma, a junior at Bronx High School of Science, first used Science Buddies to locate Project Ideas in middle school. Her awareness of Science Buddies and the impact the organization has on K-12 science grew when she later spotted Ask an Expert forum threads while reviewing Google search results. "I was drawn in by how students and Experts could interact easily and demystify a project by building on each other's responses," says Reshma. Excited by the prospect of working alongside, and learning from, adult Experts while helping other students with their science questions, she signed up as a student mentor.

Reshma says she takes seriously these words by Steve Jobs: "The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it." For Reshma, volunteering at Ask an Expert has given her an opportunity to do "great work" helping a wide range of students succeed with science projects. "I was really taken by the thrill of helping a student who might have been miles and miles away, or simply right next door," she explains.

"Being an Expert on the forums made me realize my ability to share my knowledge in a way that I could not have imagined before," says Reshma, adding that seeing students suddenly understand what had at first been confusing was both a reward and a motivating factor. Reshma assisted with questions in both the Physical Sciences and Math forums and says, "I was absolutely psyched that I was able to aid other kids by turning a process that may at first have been frustrating or befuddling into something exhilarating and intriguing."

Reshma has presented science projects at her school's yearly science exposition and is currently working on an extended science research project which she hopes to enter in advanced competitions next year. For the last two year, she has participated in the Mathematical Association of America's (MAA's) Greater Metropolitan New York Math Fair, winning a silver medal as a sophomore and a gold medal this year. Reshma also writes poetry and was awarded a Knopf Prize this year.


Grace Kim

Grace, a junior at Jericho High School, first learned about Science Buddies while helping another student research possible science project topics. In addition to being impressed with the wide range of offerings at Science Buddies, Grace notes, "I was fascinated by the Ask an Expert program, which provides online mentoring and thoughtful responses to a variety of questions."

At Ask an Expert, Grace found an opportunity to both share and expand her own science knowledge. "I was grateful for the opportunity to learn and research new topics in order to respond to questions," says Grace. "The variety of research topics the students [asked about] involved many intriguing and innovative aspects. Overall, working with Ask an Expert program gave me the satisfaction of helping and [encouraging] students to grow as successful and bright young scientists." The program is one Grace definitely recommends to other top science students. Volunteering as a student Ask an Expert mentor "is an invaluable experience to help other students to achieve their scientific aspirations, and, in turn, to broaden your own scientific perspective," she says.

Grace has participated in several years of science competition. Her many successes and recognitions include being a semifinalist in the Siemens Competition 2011, a two- year U.S National BioGENEius Competition Finalist, Grand Award winner at New York Science and Engineering Fair 2011, and MIT Think Competition 2011 semifinalist. In addition to conducting her own science research and volunteering with Science Buddies, Grace is co-president of her school's peer tutoring club, an activity that parallels her work with Science Buddies and speaks to her passion for helping other students. "I embrace the virtues of educational outreach," says Grace. "It is important for students to realize that mentoring is one of the truly valuable approaches towards empowering other students and communities."

Grace is also the founder and president of the East African Youth Empowerment Summit (EAYES), an organization inspired by her research on malaria. She also volunteers at a local hospital and works as a camp counselor for autistic children.


A Rewarding Experience

Students who volunteer at Ask an Expert earn official community service credit, but many student mentors find the program—and the help they offer students—a rewarding way to encourage and support science literacy. As mentors, these students become part of the larger science community and have the opportunity to share what they know, interact with professional scientists and engineers, and be part of an award-winning nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting K-12 science education. The Ask an Expert mentor program challenges these high-achieving students to articulate science concepts to K-12 students in ways that are encouraging, supportive, and easy to understand. This hands-on experience making science information accessible to students and parents who may have no previous experience can be important in helping student mentors better articulate, share, and explain their own research and projects.



Congratulations to both of this year's Craig Sander Outstanding Mentor Award recipients!

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Nithin Tumma, a previous student mentor at Science Buddies, wins Intel Science Talent Search for cancer research project.

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Nithin Tumma, winner of this year's Intel Science Talent Search

Each year, thousands of students complete science projects and participate in science fairs around the country—and around the world. With the national spotlight on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education fueled by the Educate to Innovate campaign, Change the Equation, and the Google Science Fair, now in its second year, the science fair scene is evolving, but there are two competitions in the U. S. that stand among all others as pinnacles of science success: the Intel Science Talent Search (STS) and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

The winners of this year's Intel Science Talent Search were announced last week, and Science Buddies was thrilled to learn that the top award went to Nithin Tumma, a senior at Port Huron Northern High School in Port Huron, Michigan. There were cheers all around when we heard the news because Nithin volunteered at Science Buddies as a high school mentor in our Ask an Expert forum last year and won the Craig Sander Outstanding Mentor Award for his contributions.


Advanced Student Science

Nithin's project for this year's Intel Science Talent Search deals with slowing the growth of breast cancer cells, a step which may aid in treating the disease. "I studied protein interactions during the progression of leukemia and breast cancer," explains Nithin, "and discovered possible therapeutic targets to slow the growth and spreading of the cancers."

His project built upon research he began working on last summer at Stony Brook University as a Simons Fellow. Prior to his Stony Brook fellowship, Nithin was a finalist at ISEF three years in a rows and won Best of Category and first place honors in the Cellular and Molecular Biology category last year for his project, "Identifying Novel Mechanisms of Cytochrome-P450 2E1 Regulation," a study of the ways in which insulin or metformin (two drugs commonly used to treat Type 2 diabetes) alters Cyp2E1, a liver enzyme that helps eliminate carcinogens.

In a letter Nithin wrote last year after his ISEF success, he put his own cumulative science fair experience in perspective. "Science fairs provide an opportunity to experience learning on a different level, a hands on approach that helps develop a deep, true understanding of subject matter. The topics that I know the most about are the topics that I have spent time researching, from global warming in seventh grade to the connections between diabetes and liver cancer, my current study."

This year, he adds breast cancer to the list of topics in which he has immersed himself with advanced student science projects and joins an elite group of young scientists who have been named finalists and winners of the Intel Science Talent Search.

"When I heard, I was totally taken aback," says Nithin. "I had no idea that I would win, and I truly think that any of the 40 kids just as easily could have taken home the first prize. At first I was shocked, then elated as it started to sink in."


Commitment to Science

While community service is increasingly valued among high school students (and incoming student admissions boards), not all students engaged in advanced research and preparing for top-level competition have time for one in-depth community project, much less several. Nithin has devoted time and energy to fostering science education in his community, to volunteering at Science Buddies, and to restoring historical and cultural landmarks as part of his work with the Port Huron Museum.

Passionate about science and the importance of high school science, Nithin didn't sit quietly when his local science fair disbanded due to funding and participation issues. Wanting to encourage advanced science activity at the student level—and hoping to foster interest in science among middle school students—Nithin started a science club at a local middle school. The club meets twice a month, beginning at the start of the school year, and encourages students to work on year-long science projects. In its first year, Nithin was excited to find that he had tapped into a wealth of interest in science. Students wanted an avenue for pursuing in-depth research and showcasing it at a fair. "We ended up having about 45 projects to present at a district science fair that I help set up," says Nithin.

He credits mentoring at Science Buddies as a student Expert in the Ask an Expert volunteer program with helping him recognize and understand the "teacher" within him. His experience at Ask an Expert, he says, also helped him better articulate science—both his own and scientific concepts he spent time explaining in answering questions from other students.


A Glimpse at Tomorrow

In an announcement of the winners issued by Intel, Wendy Hawkins asks... which of the 40 finalists from this years STS will go on to someday win a Nobel Prize? With the kind of talent, research, and dedication demonstrated by Nithin and other STS finalists this year, it is a question of merit and one supported by the growing list of past STS participants who have gone on to win Nobel Prizes. It's an impressive group. As Hawkins wrote: "We do know that the 40 finalists assembled here this week are well on their way to becoming science game changers. They are talented, brilliant, passionate, and they are able to communicate that passion and the science they care so deeply about to others in terms we can all understand—a necessary talent for an aspiring scientist."

We at Science Buddies are proud to have young scientists like Nithin as part of our team of volunteers!

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Volunteer with Science Buddies!


School is back in session, and that means science projects are underway. Already in my house there has been excitement over the various states of water. And as the information trickles home and what has been learned is demonstrated and relayed and put to use and tested again and again, I can't count how many times I have found a cup of water left in the freezer as an experiment. Similarly, several days in a row, a cup of water was left bedside to see if bubbles formed on the surface overnight. When there were no bubbles, I heard, "My experiment didn't work, but that's okay." Add to that a newfound awareness of solid shapes, the parts of trees, and a wealth of knowledge about hedgehogs, and it's been a very full first month of kindergarten.

With science projects and science fairs already taking shape in classrooms, Science Buddies is in the process of scheduling volunteers to answer questions in our Ask an Expert forums.

The Science Buddies Ask an Expert forums offer personalized help to K-12 students (and their parents) with questions about science fair projects. From fielding questions about formulating hypotheses to helping with the identification of variables to troubleshooting an experimental procedure, our team of Experts helps make science projects less frustrating and more rewarding. With each student we help at Ask an Expert, we hope we are fostering enthusiasm for science and increasing science literacy.

Volunteers at Ask an Expert include both Experts working in scientific fields, teachers, and advanced high school science students interested in performing community service by helping other students with their science fair questions and projects.

To find out more about volunteering with Science Buddies, please visit: www.sciencebuddies.org/volunteer. If you are a teacher and would like information you can distribute to your students, please let us know.

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