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Science Buddies Blog: August 2009 Archives

The Size of GFP

test tubesThe Science Buddies library of science fair project ideas recently got a bit of glow and an unusual dose of "green" in the form of a new project that uses chromatography. The "green" in this case is "green florescent protein (GFP)," and the project uses a study of GFP to demonstrate "size-exclusion chromatography."

Looking at the etymology of the word chromatography, you know that chromatography is related to color ... and to paper. The word derives from Greek words meaning "color" and "to write," and many chromatography projects involve paper chromatography. The origins of chromatography stem from early studies of plant-based pigments like chlorophyll.

Using chromatography, students can analyze the quantity of dyes and pigments in both natural and man-made products. In short-term science fair projects that can be performed in a number of hours, students can use paper chromatography to compare the inks in permanent black markers or to determine the breakdown of dyes in the composition of the hard-shell exterior of favorite candy-coated candies. With a bit more time available, paper chromatography can be used to study and compare pigments in red flower petals.

While these projects involve paper-based methods, chromatography is not always paper-based. Instead, chromatography is an umbrella term for laboratory techniques that assist in the separation of mixtures.

In "Sizing It Up! How Scientists Separate Proteins," a science fair project idea authored by a teacher-student team from Tracy High School in San Joaquin county, CA, students use a Size-exclusion Chromatography Kit from Bio-Rad, sponsor of Science Buddies' biotechnology projects and resources, to explore size-exclusion chromatography as they create mixtures and break them down again to determine the size of GFP, a protein which glows green when exposed to blue light.

A bit of time in a dark room with a blue light, a green protein first isolated from a jellyfish, and combinations of hemoglobin and vitamin B12 – it's got the makings of a hit classroom or home-based project. Plus, it's a great way to get a hands-on look at what's involved in separating proteins – a critical step in biotechnology, from drug development and research to analysis and tracking of toxins.

Getting Started:

From Storyboard to Computer Design

For today's students, the leap from playing video games to programming video games isn't necessarily a big one. Even elementary school students who enjoy filling some down-time with a favorite game can begin exploring the logic and sequencing involved in designing a video game.

Before sitting down at a computer, encourage your students to work on mapping out a storyboard as they think through the premise (or plot) of their game. Who are the main characters? What is the goal? What kinds of problems will be encountered? What skills do you need to win?

Answering these questions is an important first step and gives the game designer a chance to think about the concept of game levels or stages and the need to develop traps, challenges, and objectives for each level -- as well as the need to build in ways for main characters to successfully handle each situation. This stage in the development also encourages solid grounding in "process-oriented thinking." It's easy to envision A, D, and Z, but what steps happen in between? If a storyboard for a video game ends up looking like a massive flow-chart filled with conditional if-then statements (if this happens, then this will happen), chances are they are on the right path - and they are demonstrating the kinds of detail-oriented and conditions-based thinking necessary for computer programming.

Storyboarding gets the ball rolling, but the magic lies in working with software that enables the designer to begin bringing the story (and the game) to life.

As a parent or teacher watching a student's first steps in game design, it can be eye-opening to see the cycle of development as it unfolds. Having grown up with first-wave Atari systems and having spent time learning to program on a Commodore 64 system in my own pre-teen days, my history with video games is one steeped in games like Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Asteroids, Centipede, and other "vintage" games.

When I saw the game my 8-year-old designed as part of a week-long LEGO camp this summer, I was amazed to see familiar principles from those early games peeking through, as well as features and concepts he's absorbed from games he's played on the LEGO site (e.g. JunkBot and WorldBuilders) and from his own experience with hand-held games.

With computers already an established part of the routine for many students and in many classrooms and learning environments, working with video game programming software can be viewed as an extension of computer literacy efforts and can increase a student's familiarity with technology as well as result in a project (and product) that she enjoys, is invested in, and is proud of. When it comes to introducing students to computers, there is room to do more than simply have them cut and paste digital stickers or use a "paint bucket" in a graphics program or learn to type a report in word processing software. For some, the grasp of digital storytelling and the programming that lies beneath it is innate, and with GUI-based game design software like Scratch from MIT, there's ample room for students to experiment.

For those interested in programming but not in gaming, working with LEGO Mindstorms can provide introductory grounding in principles of programming, circuitry, timing, and robotics. Maybe your class will end up with a small bot that can help clean pencils up from the tables and floors!

The following Science Buddies Project Ideas can get you and your students started:

If you have high-school-aged girls interested in computer programming, video game design, digital design, or another computer-related field, be sure and check out the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. National winners will receive a $500 cash award, a laptop, and a trip to the awards ceremony.

The application period runs from September 15 to November 1, 2009. For more information on the award or the NCWIT, please visit: www.ncwit.org.

Science Buddies' First Teacher Webinar

Join Science Buddies on August 30 for "Using Science Buddies for Success," a free one-hour webinar designed to introduce teachers to Science Buddies' resources and tools.

As the 2009-2010 school year gets ready to kick into gear, now is the perfect time to learn more about how Science Buddies can be integrated in your classroom. Science Buddies is dedicated to creating engaging project ideas and resources that can help increase science enthusiasm, interest, and literacy in all grades. The webinar, sponsored by Northrop Grumman and Motorola, will walk you through our resources and offer suggestions for incorporating Science Buddies' materials in your classroom.

Webinar 'Door' Prizes!

At the end of the webinar, we will award door prizes. The first 25 attendees to sign in and attend the whole webinar will receive a free Scientific Method poster. Also, random names will be drawn from among ALL attendees: 10 attendees will receive a Maxtor Personal Storage Basics 300 gigabyte external hard drive and 1 attendee will receive a $100 grant of his or her choice of science supplies or equipment!

Pop Goes the Mentos®

Did you see Aliens in the Attic? If so, you probably noticed that scientific concepts were skimming along the surface of the dialogue and underwriting the tactics the kids called upon as they matched wits with the quartet of aliens from Planet Zirkon.

As the aliens' diplomatic guide book gets thrown out the window, gaming systems, cell phones, launchers, anti-gravity devices, static electricity machines, and high-tech joystick controls take center stage. And the Mentos® the kids' grandmother doles out (and which they graciously take and tuck away in their pockets) are put to the ultimate use: a bottle rocket.

Mentos®' bottle rockets are a popular science project and offer a good bit of excitement for younger observers. Unlike baking-soda and vinegar volcanoes, which depend on a chemical reaction, Mentos®' rockets exhibit a physical reaction.

With a bit of tweaking, this simple project can be extended and turned into a truly explosive classroom or backyard experiment. You'll be able to talk about chemical versus physical reactions, surface tension, nucleation sites, and more.

Let the Science Buddies' "Coke® & Mentos® - Nucleation Goes Nuclear!" project idea show you how! (Science Buddies' difficulty level: 2-3)

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