The Gift Of Inspiration II-PODCAST

High Touch High Tech is all about INSPIRATION! We strive to motivate kids in the field of science! This is part two of our journey into the neuroscience and psychology of inspiration and gratitude.

https://spotifyanchor-web.app.link/e/JjCzWK5EIwb

Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, a place that always inspires us. Enjoy the podcast!
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Gift of Inspiration

This season, we’re inspired by the view from Looking Glass Rock in Western North Carolina

At High Touch High Tech, we specialize in inspiring the scientists of tomorrow. We know that, behind so many of the most world-changing scientific discoveries, you’ll find an inspired scientist! But what IS inspiration, exactly? Is it an emotion? A psychological process? An electrical signal in the brain? Turns out, it’s all of those and more. Join us for part one of our podcast on the science of inspiration at the link below!
https://anchor.fm/sciencemadefun/episodes/Inspiration-and-Gratitude-part-1-e1sfhub

The Three Sisters

What’s on your plate? Oh, just a few thousand years of experimentation, observation, and ingenuity!

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Indigenous American innovation has inspired the foods we eat, Appalachian traditions, medicine and engineering just to name a few. In this latest podcast from High Touch High Tech we dive deep into discussion of the science and history behind why beans, corn and squash are such important staple foods today. We hope this inspires you to explore our history and the contributions of the Indigenous People of the Americas. The scientific advancement of these civilizations are the foundation for food culture across the world. Exploring the legend of the Three Sisters and the practices behind the legend may point the way toward a sustainable future.

Listen to the to the podcast here: https://anchor.fm/sciencemadefun/episodes/The-Three-Sisters-e1r722b

WORMS! Meet Your Decomposers: Earthworms- Lumbricina

credit: wikimedia commons

For more about earthworms and other creepy decomposers, listen to the latest High Touch High Tech podcast! : https://spotifyanchor-web.app.link/e/LXdEenw2pub

On a Spring evening when the air is moist and the nights are getting warmer, I can go outside with a flashlight, shine it on the grass, and see so many earthworms pulling themselves back into the tunnels they have created in the soil. They love my yard because it is full of composting chicken and duck manure from the escapades the domestic birds had in the days before. If you listen closely, you can even hear them moving in the soil! It’s interesting to think that the composted duck and chicken manure is feeding the worms that the chickens and ducks love to eat. I have created an ecosystem that feeds itself.

credit: wikimedia commons

Earthworms are a terrestrial invertebrate found in the soil with segmented setae (bristled body parts to help the earthworm from slipping backwards) on all the segments of their body. They spend their days eating organic matter including protozoa, rotifers, bacteria, and fungi.  Their digestive system runs the length of their bodies, and they respire through their skin. They are hermaphrodites, meaning they contain both sex organs. Though they can reproduce without a mate, they prefer having one. Upon which they exchange sperm and develop eggs.

Earthworm egg sac credit: wikimedia commons

There are about 3000 species of earthworms worldwide. They can be found almost everywhere there is moist soil. Most of today’s earthworms arrived from Europe, most likely from the soil in rootstocks of plants during shipment.

Earthworms appear white, grey, pink, or reddish brown. They can range in size depending on species anywhere from ½” to a whopping 10 feet! The biggest ones can be found in Australia. They are a cold-blooded creature and assume the temperature of their surroundings. They are true worms, meaning they hatch as tiny worms and grow to adulthood without instar stages like that of the beetle or fly.

Hannah G Watson, Andrew T Ashchi, Glenn S Marrs, Cecil J Saunders. Scanning electron micrograph of recently hatched Eisenia hortensis. CC BY 4.0. http://biology.wfu.edu/ credit: wikimedia commons

The lifecycle of the earthworms is as follows: they begin as an egg, emerge as a tiny baby, grow to a juvenile, and then become an adult. They can live up to 8 years. The hatchling is a tiny white and threadlike. As they grow into a juvenile, they began to develop colors of grey or reddish brown. When they become adults the band around the upper part of their body develops. This is called the clitellum, and this is the area in which reproduction organs exist. An adult worm after mating lays up to a dozen eggs at a time. The eggs are laid in the soil and are contained in a tiny egg sac that is the sloughed off part of the clitellum. After a 15-day incubation the hatchling emerges. It takes around 60 days for the earthworm to grow into an adult. Then the reproduction process begins all over again.

What are some uses for earthworms? Well, the most useful thing they do is to decompose organic matter creating frass, worm manure. The frass is an amazing fertilizer that is sold for anywhere from $1 to $5 a pound. It is a viable compost that can be applied directly to plant beds and potted plants as well. Earthworms make good fish bait. That is a whole market all its own. Also, as I said before the chickens and ducks love them! They are an excellent source of protein and minerals. They are eaten by humans in China and the Philippines. In Fujian and Guangdong province they are considered a delicacy.  In Southern Venezuela the Ye Khanna people gather them from mud, gut and boil them to eat in dishes and sometimes smoked. They are also eaten by the Māori people of New Zealand. Its is reported that they have an unsurprising earthy flavor.

As we approach sustainability, other protein and mineral sources come into our view that are much less impactful upon the earth. If you have chickens and ducks, consider creating a worm farm in a plastic or wooden bin. Or if your property is set up like mine the earthworm farm is the whole yard enabling your domestic birds to feast as they desire. Overall, the earthworm is a fascinating decomposer that is accessible for study or for a snack, directly under our feet.

Shana M Ritch

For more information go to : https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/08/10/489302134/should-we-make-room-for-worms-on-our-dinner-plate

The Black Soldier Fly

Image  credit: wikimedia commons

Listen to the podcast for more on larvae and decomposers! : https://spotifyanchor-web.app.link/e/LXdEenw2pub

All life fits into an ecosystem somewhere. Even what some may consider an annoying creature has a role to play in our intricate and interconnected world. One of those “annoying” creatures is the fly. However, the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) doesn’t have the typical characteristics of the annoying housefly that interrupts your lunch and quiet while you sleep. In fact, they are beneficial in ways beyond the niche they fill in our ecological community.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

So, this fly is a bit different in appearance to the common housefly. The adults measure about 5/8 inch long. They have a predominantly black body with metallic blue to green on the thorax and a reddish-brown abdomen. They have a wide head and very developed eyes. Their habits are different as well. They don’t buzz around and land on your doughnut releasing digestive juices and bacteria like the housefly. Instead, they are much calmer, can be caught easily, and the spreading of pathogens isn’t a problem. They prefer hiding if they are able. Their metabolic rate isn’t as high, so they fly around less.

The life cycle of a black soldier fly begins as an egg.  The eggs incubate for about 3 days. The entire life cycle can take anywhere from 44-73 days. The time for each stage is dependent upon temperatures and food access. Warmer temperatures are best for the quickest stage development. During the larval stage they may go through 6 instars or stages of shedding and growth. This process takes about 14 days. Then they pupate for 1-2 weeks before emerging as a fully formed black soldier fly. Then they mate, lay eggs and the whole process begins again.

The larvae eat almost constantly, breaking up particles with their mouth parts. Eating in masses together they stir up their food and heat it up with the energy they give off thus increasing the rate of compost. They love compost, household organic waste and manure. They can quickly reduce a compost pile by 50% if the weather is warm. As adults they move less and mostly drink liquids. Their main goal is mating and laying eggs.

In nature the black soldier fly can usually be found around livestock and farms due to their desire for compost and manure. This attribute can be utilized in and around homesteads, small city chicken coops, compost piles and farms.

Image  credit: wikimedia commons

 The larvae have many uses. These include feed for poultry, fish, pigs, lizards, turtles and are sometimes incorporated into dog food. They have a nice balance of healthy fats, nutrients, and amino acids. So, for this reason could they be used for human food? Absolutely. It is reported that when cooked they smell like cooked potatoes, have a crispier outside and a soft yummy inside with a nutty meaty taste. Yum!!! In 2013 Austrian designer, Katharina Unger, produced a tabletop insect breeding farm called Farm 432 (https://katharinaunger.com/farm-432-insect-breeding) that can produce a bit over a pound of larvae a week. The larvae are not only a nutritious protein filled meal for us but is also used to produce chitin, a polymer derived from glucose, to aid in removing biofouling (organic buildup) from pipes and the hulls of ships. The larvae manure is called frass and has its own use as organic fertilizer. Nothing goes wasted in nature.

Image credit: pixabay

You could even set up a self-feeding or collection station for your pigs, chickens, and ducks. In an existing contained compost bin, you could construct a ridged tube from the bottom of the bin that leads to a bucket outside. The larvae have a natural tendency to climb. Use that aspect and give them a tube to crawl up and simply set a bucket at the end for them to drop into. Or just let the chickens and ducks wait at the end for a snack.

credit: pixabay

In conclusion, we have examined the lifecycle, and many uses of the larvae for Hermetia illucens. Get innovative and construct your own chicken food producing station.  You can do it with minimal engineering knowledge and just a visit to the hardware store. Explore a sustainable source of protein to create culinary delights such as larvae burgers and crunchy bits for salads and stews.  As you snack you can revel in the knowledge that this less buzzy fly has not only a niche in nature, but a place in our world as we move closer to sustainability.

For more on Black Soldier flies visit: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Hermetia_illucens/

Shana M Ritch

Worms! Meet Your Decomposers

We are so happy to announce to all of our science friends, near and far, that our High Touch High Tech podcast is BACK!

In honor of this eerie October season we present to you a scientific conversation about worms and larvae. Exploring the creepy nature of decomposers demystifies them, and reveals the value they have in nature.

We delve into the lifecycles and curious facts about champion decomposers such as Tenebrio molitor, Lumbricina, and Sarcophagidae. Enjoy! Here’s the link: https://spotifyanchor-web.app.link/e/LXdEenw2pub

Hurricane Science for Kids

What is a Hurricane?

A hurricane is a large and powerful storm that can be hundreds of miles across! A hurricane has strong winds spiraling inward and upward, and can move at speeds of 75 to 200 mph. For instance, at peak intensity Hurricane Ian was a Category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour!  The highest and most dangerous category of hurricane is Category 5, with maximum sustained winds of over 155 mph.   

Hurricane Dennis, a Category 4 storm

What makes a hurricane special is that it rotates around the “eye” of the storm, which is the calmest part.  Hurricanes rotate in a counter-clockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise direction in the Southern Hemisphere. You need three things for a hurricane to form: warm water, cooler air, and wind.

The center, or “eye” of a hurricane.

Typically, hurricanes form over warm ocean waters of at least 80°F. That combined with the cooler air of early fall sets things up for a hurricane. When ocean waters are warm and the air above is cool, AND there’s a wind that’s blowing in the same direction and at the same speed, this starts forcing air upward from the ocean surface. The winds start to flow outward above the storm allowing the air below to rise, giving the hurricane its strength and its shape. Then something called the Coriolis Force gives hurricanes that special spin you see! Atlantic hurricanes typically occur between June and November.

Even though a hurricane is made of air and water, it has a structure inside!

How are Hurricanes Classified?

Hurricanes are classified into five categories, based on their wind speeds and potential to cause damage.

Category 1: Winds 75-95 mph with minimal damage

Category 2: Winds 96-110 mph with moderate damage

Category 3: Winds 111-130 mph with extensive damage

Category 4: Winds 131-155 mph with extreme damage

Category 5: Winds 155+ mph with catastrophic damage

Sometimes a hurricane will start with a high classification of Category 5 but then drop once it hits land. For instance, Hurricane Matthew started off as a Category 5 but was considered Category 4 once it made landfall in Florida. Once a hurricane hits land it loses strength, i.e. decreases in category, because of cool temperatures, a lack of moisture, and/or friction. Moisture is what fuels a hurricane!

What are some Famous Hurricanes?

1992 – Hurricane Andrew – Category 5

1999– Hurricane Floyd – Category 2

2005– Hurricane Katrina – Category 5

2012– Hurricane Sandy – Category 3

2016– Hurricane Matthew – Category 5/4

2018– Hurricane Michael – Category 5

2022– Hurricane Ian – Category 4

Check out this cool video! Make a hurricane in a bowl at home so you can see how they work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRlpLenOcTg

Sources and Further Reading:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/hurricane-ian-update-category-5-hurricanes-what-is

http://www.weatherwizkids.com/weather-hurricane.htm

KIDS ASK! Why do Leaves Change Color?

Here at HTHT, we teach a LOT of science, and the best part about it is feeding young scientists’ curiosity about this amazing world we live in!  Although our programs are jam packed with experiments, we make time to let our young scientists ask us whatever questions they’ve always wanted to ask a scientist.   

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a special series of articles answering some of the most frequent questions that come up from our young partners in science.  Our question this week is:

WHY DO LEAVES CHANGE COLOR?

Well science friends, the Autumnal Equinox has happened here in the Northern Hemisphere, and that means the beginning of FALL!  Fall is a beautiful season, beloved for its cool days and the incredible changing colors of the trees all around us.  Why do leaves change colors in fall? Here’s the reason:

Leaf color comes from pigments. Pigments are colored substances produced by leaf cells. The three pigments that color leaves are:

chlorophyll (which produces the green color)

carotenoid(produces yellow, orange, and brown colors)

anthocyanin (produces a red color)

Chlorophyll is the most important of the three. It is the green color in leaves. Leaves contain chlorophyll in order to use the sunlight to produce their own food through the process of photosynthesis.

Carotenoids are organic pigments that are found in the chloroplasts and chromoplasts of plants and some other photosynthetic organisms.  Carotenoids create bright yellows and oranges in familiar fruits and vegetables. For example, corn, carrots, and bananas to name a few.

Anthocyanins are pigments that may appear red, purple, or blue depending on the pH. They add the color red to plants, including cranberries, red apples, cherries, strawberries and others.

In the fall, because of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process. Since chlorophyll is no longer needed to make food for the tree, the chlorophyll breaks down. This means the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible. Most anthocyanins are produced only in autumn, and only under certain conditions. Not all trees can make anthocyanin, but sugar maples seem to have the easiest time in doing so.

Now you know why leaves change color! Have fun and enjoy the beautiful fall season!

SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:

Resources: State of New York: College of Environmental Science and Forestry: http://www.esf.edu/

Dnr.wi.gov- Environmental Education for Kids:  http://dnr.wi.gov/org/caer/ce/eek/veg/trees/treestruecolor.htm

KIDS ASK! Can Scientists Study Ghosts? Part II

It’s true that most scientists do not investigate ghosts, but there are a few scientists out there who do use the scientific method to investigate ghost sightings.  This means that the scientists are objective and that they carefully test the evidence they have for all possible explanations.  Vic Tandey, an engineer and researcher at Coventry University in the UK, was one of the most famous of these kinds of scientists.  There’s Dr. Chris French at University of London, who specializes in what’s called “Anomalistic Psychology,” and the Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee, a team of ghost hunters who use the scientific method.

No one has yet seen a ghost under a microscope.

Let’s talk about a real-life ghost story that took place in a science lab at Coventry University, UK.  Wouldn’t an actual lab full of scientists be the perfect place to find real evidence of a ghost?  In the Coventry University lab, people always reported bad and creepy feelings there at night, like being watched.  Some people even reported seeing dark figures out of the corner of their eyes.   People in the lab felt stressed, depressed, and terrified!

Ever had the feeling something is standing just behind you?

Vic Tandey, who was working at the university, did not start by looking for a ghost.  He started by studying the laboratory environment, to see if there was any explanation for these feelings and sightings.  Was the lab too cold?  Was there a chemical in the air that made people feel bad?  What he found was something that might explain a lot of ghost hauntings, in a scientific way. 

A normal, non-haunted science lab.

The sounds we hear every day are vibrations that travel in waves on the air around us.  The energy in sound waves means that sound waves can also affect our bodies.  If you have ever heard a song with a strong thumping beat and felt it in your body, you know how powerful sound can be!  You probably know that there are some sounds are so high-pitched, humans cannot hear them, like the high sounds only dogs can hear.  But there are also sounds that are so low-pitched that humans cannot hear, called infrasound. 

Sound vibrations can carry a lot of energy.

Vic Tandey learned that scientists who studied infrasound in experiments found that it can cause feelings of fear, anxiety, and can even cause people to see things, because the infrasound vibrations affect people’s bodies, and seem to affect people’s eyes especially. Infrasound is often made by large machines, especially large fans.  What did scientists find in the laboratory? Not a ghost, but a very large fan!  When they turned off the fan, the ghost sightings all stopped.

Are sound waves the source of ghost sightings?

When scientists are objective and test their evidence of ghosts with the scientific method, they usually find other explanations.  Many of the explanations found have to do with things in your environment that can affect your brain.  This is why most scientists who investigate ghosts work in the fields of psychology or neurology.  For example, it’s been proven that breathing in the poisonous gas called carbon monoxide can cause symptoms that feel like a haunting.  People with carbon monoxide leaking from their stove or heater usually don’t know it, and so they breathe in the gas constantly, which hurts their brain.  This causes them to see things, and to feel very frightened.  There have been many cases of people reporting ghosts, but finding a leaky heater instead. This has happened so many times that scientists now say that if you are seeing ghosts and feeling scared, check the carbon monoxide levels in your house right away, because carbon monoxide can kill you!  There is even fascinating evidence that magnetic or electrical fields can affect people’s brains and give people the feeling that there is someone in the room with them, watching them.

The best scientific evidence for ghosts is mostly found…in your brain!

When scientists study ghosts, they often find that there is something around a person that is influencing what they see, hear, or feel.  So science friends, people who use science to investigate ghosts have to be objective, and they have to find evidence of ghosts that cannot be explained by anything else.  Most times, ghost sightings can be explained by things like infrasound, magnetism, carbon monoxide, or electricity. Because of this, so far, no one has ever scientifically proven ghosts exist – but they haven’t scientifically proven that they don’t exist either! 

Sources and Further Information:

Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee: an awesome team of real ghost researchers who use the scientific method: https://paranormalmilwaukee.com/

The science of ghosts and the Coventry Lab Story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuFZf89Rp-A

Dr. Chris French explains why people see ghosts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jve3p0ws-nI

A famous tale of a carbon monoxide haunting: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/319/and-the-call-was-coming-from-the-basement/prologue-3

Scientific study on how electricity can produce feelings of being haunted by a ghost: https://www.nature.com/articles/443287a

The GHOST FREQUENCY, the infrasound that makes people see ghosts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dUOHNLe9r0

KIDS ASK! Can Scientists Study Ghosts?

Here at HTHT, we teach a LOT of science, and the best part about it is feeding young scientists’ curiosity about this amazing world we live in!  Although our programs are jam packed with experiments, we make time to let our young scientists ask us whatever questions they’ve always wanted to ask a scientist.   

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a special series of articles answering some of the most frequent questions that come up from our young partners in science.  Our question this week is:

CAN SCIENTISTS STUDY GHOSTS?

At HTHT, we work with all kinds of future scientists, from engineers to paleontologists. Encouraging kids on their path to a fulfilling life in science is what we do!  This week’s question comes from a young scientist who was thinking about an unusual path in science … the field of paranormal research, aka GHOST SCIENCE!  Can scientists study ghosts?  When they study them, what do they find?! 

Is it a ghost? No, this photo is scientifically proven to be fake!

Yes!  Scientists in the field of Paranormal Psychology can study people’s reports of ghosts, and travel to haunted places all over the world to investigate and research!  But… no scientist has ever found a real ghost, or studied one.  There is no scientific evidence of ghosts at all.  But at the same time, there is no scientific evidence that ghosts don’t exist, either.  If you are dreaming of becoming the first scientist to prove ghosts are real, here are some things for you to think about!

This was taken at the Jerome Grand Hotel, which people say is very haunted. See the shadowy black figure in the back left? Is it a ghost? No one has scientifically proven it is or it isn’t!
Photo credit:
Cultureu
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Maybe you like to watch those awesome “ghost hunting” shows where people have all kinds of expensive-looking instruments like infrared cameras and electromagnetic field detectors.  They go to haunted places and record things that sound like voices, or weird shapes in the darkness.  Aren’t they getting evidence of ghosts?  They have all those cool detectors and machines, after all!  Well science friends, the truth is that you can have all of the cool technology in the world.  But if you are not following the scientific method, you are not doing real science, and whatever you find is not considered scientifically true.

This is an Electromagnetic Field Meter, which scientists can use to detect invisible electricity, magnetic fields, and radio waves. Ghost hunting TV shows say it can also demonstrate when a ghost is near.
Photo credit:
Batanagar Paranormal Society
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Real-life scientific research has to follow the scientific method, which is a series of steps that ALL scientists, everywhere in the entire world, must use.  For something to be considered true and real, it absolutely has to be found using the scientific method.  One of the first and most important parts of the scientific method is that scientists have to be objective, which means they are not attached to looking for a certain result in their experiments.  All scientists know that if you are looking for a certain result, your mind will naturally look for it in all the experiments you do.  This means that you won’t find the scientific truth, you will find what you want to find!

Scientists who study ghost hauntings, called Paranormal Psychologists, have done a lot of research on how easy it is for your mind to trick you into believing something, if you really want to believe it. Especially when you are scared!

For example, let’s say you are an ocean scientist looking for a Mystery Shark that lives in the Mariana Trench.  No one has ever seen it, but you’ve heard many stories and you are sure it’s real.  If you are using the scientific method, you do not ask Can I find the Mystery Shark?  This means your brain will think every weird thing you see could be the Mystery Shark, and you will probably start believing you found it. If you are thinking like a scientist, you ask Is there any evidence that the Mystery Shark is real?  You can go and collect things you think are evidence. Then you can TEST your evidence, using scientific experiments.

Found the Mystery Shark!

Ghost hunters on TV aren’t objective.  Most of them are very interested in finding ghosts, so to them (and to you watching the show) any little sound or image on a camera could be a ghost!  Although these TV shows use scientific instruments, they are not using the scientific method.  If a scientist looks for ghosts and finds evidence of strange heat on their infrared night vision camera, they cannot go ahead and say it is evidence of a ghost.  They have to carefully investigate other possibilities first to prove that it is not something else!  The truth is that when scientists follow the rules of the scientific method to investigate a haunting, they usually find something else that explains it.  This means that there is no scientific evidence that ghosts are real, but there’s no evidence they aren’t real, either.  All that we know is that every time someone has shown evidence of ghosts, when it was tested carefully according to the scientific method, it was shown to be something else.

Usually hauntings can be explained by other things….but what?  Are there any hauntings that science absolutely CAN’T explain? Next week we’ll investigate creepy real life ghost stories and the real life scientists who study them! 

SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:

A great animated explanation of the scientific method and how science works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nAETHZTObk

A scientist of Paranormal Psychology explains why people see ghosts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jve3p0ws-nI

Ghost Hunting TV shows and why they are not exactly scientific: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXu7tXixrtQ