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Science Buddies Blog: December 2009 Archives

A Healthy New Year

In a blink, the hustle and bustle of December holidays has passed, and the close of the year and the start of the new year is upon us. Do you have "goals" for the New Year? Are you hoping to do more of "this" or more of "that"? The first of January is notoriously a day of making resolutions to help guide the year as it begins to unfold. While resolutions run the gamut from serious to playful, getting in shape is a resolution many share.

A casual poll of friends and family members may turn up a surprising number of wanna-be exercisers as the ball drops later this week in Times Square. If you tried out one of our cookie dough projects, or if there was one too many slices of pie in your December, you, too, may be considering vowing to eat better, to exercise more, or to make the next year one focused on healthy choices and healthy living.

Whether exercise makes your own list of resolutions or not, with friends and family around you plugging in their treadmills and loading up their mp3 players for the morning jog, you may find yourself in prime position to tackle one of these health-conscious Science Buddies Project Ideas and to unravel things anaerobic, aerobic, and even neurotrophic.

For more health-oriented projects, browse our Human Biology and Health Project Ideas.

Double Cookie Duty

 cookie dough image
Image by Geraldine, via Wikipedia Commons

Earlier this month I looked through the Science Buddies' library of Project Ideas for cooking projects that seemed perfect for the holidays, for winter break, and even for snow days when young scientists and their parents may be cooped up indoors. With two kids of my own, I thought some lab-time in the kitchen might be fun.

I realized this week that I may have missed a great project! This is one that I know will be a hit in my kitchen. It's got all the right ingredients for an easy and tasty project.

What do you need?

  • A favorite cookie dough recipe (or use the chocolate chip one in the project
  • Ingredients to make two batches
  • Taste-testers
  • Willingness to eat cookies in the name of science

What's not to love!

If making cookies is already on your to-do list in the days to come, why not make double... and give everyone the chance to test out the science behind refrigerating the dough - or not.

If you bake double and put this to the test, let me know how it turns out! Which one tastes better?

(Parents and Teachers: Make sure you have your bakers make a hypothesis first about how things will go. This is a perfect project for practicing and reinforcing the "write a hypothesis" step in a science project.)

Scientist's Pick: Worth a Smile

 Dimpled Smile: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:VirgilGriffithFace.jpg

Note: This month's "Scientist's Pick" is from Science Buddies' lead staff scientist, Sandra Slutz. Did you miss last month's "Scientist's Pick" write-up? Do you speak Ollie? ~ Science Buddies' Editorial Staff

Project: That's a Real Smile! ...or is it?
Scientist: Sandra Slutz
Science Buddies' Difficulty Level: 5-7

Maybe it's the fact that the holiday season is starting, or maybe it's the funny antics of my toddler - but either way I've been noticing people's smiles. And the truth is people smile a lot! But after a bit of people watching (a favorite activity of mine), I've noticed that not all smiles are created equal. For example there are the "I'm having a really good day" smiles, the "nice to meet you" smiles, and the "I'm going to plaster this grin on my face and look happy even if I'm not" smiles. There are probably a dozen more that you could separate out if you sat and watched people for a while.

So do you think you're any good at detecting "genuine" versus "social" smiles? After all that people watching, I sure thought I was! But after taking a 10 minute long Spot the Fake Smile test I was surprised to see how hard it is to tell the difference between a true smile and a false one. Sitting in the café watching people it seemed so easy; probably because of all the other social cues and context. But when it came to just watching videos of people smiling out of context, I wasn't very good at distinguishing the real smiles from the fake ones.

All this piqued my curiosity about the science behind smiles - and our instinctive ability to interpret or accurately read them. After a couple of hours of digging around in psychology literature, I realized that I'm not the only one who is fascinated by smiles. Scientists have been researching smiles for centuries! In fact it was the nineteenth-century French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne who first noticed that we use different muscles for genuine smiles versus social smiles. These two types of smiles also correlate with activity in two very different parts of our brains.

All these observations and research culminated in my writing a Project Idea about smiles for science buddies: That's a Real Smile!...or is it?

This science fair project, which is my scientist's pick of the month, lets you explore how good a group of people are at detecting different types of smiles, as well as their confidence in doing so. I had a lot of fun researching and writing the project. Hopefully, it will be just as fun for the scientists who try it out!

:) (genuinely),


P.S. If you'd like to try another "science of smiling" science fair project check out Is Smiling Contagious?

If you enjoy watching people, check out the other projects in the Human Behavior section of the Science Buddies Project Ideas library.

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