STEM Spotlight: Neurologist – Elephant Band Leader!

A neuroscientist by day, Dave Sulzer explores synapses formed by the midbrain dopamine projections that underlie reward, learning and voluntary motor control. But by night, as Dave Soldier, he’s an avant-garde musician.

Should we be surprised, then, that he has such an appreciation for the artistic accomplishments of elephants? Or that he conducts an orchestra of multi-ton retirees from the logging industry? An orchestra that, boasts his partner in the enterprise, Richard “Professor Elephant” Lair, is “three-times the weight of the Berlin Philharmonic”?

Without a score or elaborate cueing and with few limitations beyond Dave’s deliberate gestures to start and stop them, these lucky instrumentalists play pretty much what they want and have a ball improvising on cymbals, gongs, renaats and harmonicas. Dave says some of the players don’t stop when he tells them to do so—even when they KNOW that’s what they should do—just for the fun of it! What teases!  Read More Here >

Other Links & Resources:

NOVA: The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers – Dave Sulzer

Video of Dave Sulzer’s Scientific Studies with The Elephant Orchestra

NPR: The Biggest Thing Out of Thialand – An Elephant Orchestra

September E-News: Elephantastic Science!

Elephants are the largest land animals on Earth! These friendly beasts can be found in both Africa and Asia and are vital to maintaining the rich biodiversity of the ecosystems that they share with other species. Only 35,000 to 50,000 Asian elephants survive in the world, and of those, 15,000 are in human care.

You can find an elephant at almost any zoo & most likely you’ve assumed that all elephants are basically the same. But, Asian elephants are actually more closely related to mammoths than their modern-day African brethren. However, their genealogy is just the tip of the iceberg for the many differences found among Asian & African Elephants.

Just in time to prepare you for the upcoming Elephant Appreciation Day on August 22nd, here are our top 10 things that you probably didn’t know about these incredible giants of the wild!  

  1. The elephant’s closest living relative is the Rock Hyrax, a small furry mammal that lives in rocky landscapes across sub-Saharan Africa and along the coast of the Arabian Peninsula.
  2. African elephants are the largest land mammals on the planet, and the females of this species undergo the longest pregnancy—22 months.
  3. Despite their size, elephants can be turned off by the smallest of critters. One study found that they avoid eating a type of acacia tree that is home to ants. Underfoot, ants can be crushed, but an elephant wants to avoid getting the ants inside its trunk, which is full of sensitive nerve endings. 
  4. Elephants don’t like peanuts. They don’t eat them in the wild, and zoos don’t feed them to their captive elephants. Peanut-loving elephants are a myth. Elephants, Asian or otherwise, don’t eat peanuts in the wild, nor are peanuts a typical diet for captive elephants. In fact, most elephants don’t even appear to like them very much.
  5. The height of an Asian or African elephant at the shoulder is roughly equivalent to the circumference of their front foot multiplied by two.
  6. An African elephant can detect seismic signals to sensory cells in its feet and also “hear” these deep-pitched sounds when ground vibrations travel from the animal’s front feet, up its leg and shoulder bones, and into its middle ear. By comparing the timing of signals received by each of its front feet, the elephant can determine the sound’s direction.
  7. Elephants are one of only nine species that can recognize themselves in a mirror. Others include bottlenose dolphins, magpies, gorillas, chimpanzees and, of course, humans, but not until they’re a few months old.
  8. Elephants can get sunburned, so they take care to protect themselves. Elephants will throw sand on their backs and on their head to prevent them from getting sunburned & to keep the bugs off. To protect their young, adult elephants will douse them in sand and stand over the little ones as they sleep.
  9. Elephants have evolved a sixth toe, which starts off as cartilage attached to the animal’s big toe but is converted to bone as the elephant ages.
  10. Elephants are either left-tusked or right-tusked! The dominant tusk is generally smaller because of wear and tear from frequent use. Elephant tusks are ivory teeth that continually grow throughout the animals’ lives.

Want to learn more? The fun doesn’t stop here! Check out the links below to get a load of the world’s largest land mammal & discover more fun science behind what makes these mammoth mammals tick!  

Elephant Conservation:

Elephants have long played an important role in the cultural, artistic, and religious heritage of many cultures across the world  – especially in Asia.  For centuries, they have been revered in Thailand, India, China, and Cambodia.  Elephant Conservation works to increase appreciation, amazement, and wonder for these great animals and to familiarize the public with the challenges elephants face in the wild, including their shrinking natural habitat. You can learn more about how to help save the Elephants by visiting the links below!


September E-News: Squishy Science – Celebrate National Play-Doh Day!

Do you love Play-Doh®? Who doesn’t, right? We can still remember the first thing we ever made with Play-Doh®. Can you guess what it was? If you guessed a snake, you’re correct!

Play-Doh® comes in a variety of bright and bold colors. There are also a series of related products and toys that make use of Play-Doh®. Since its “invention,” over 700 million pounds of Play-Doh® have been sold around the world! Most people have a childhood memory linked to this colorful putty which could be why, in 2003, it was added to the International Toy Industry Association’s “Century of Toys” List. A ‘Who’s Who’ of toys, the list contains the 100 most memorable & creative toys of the past century. 

But, have you ever wondered the origins behind this squishy childhood sidekick? In one form or another (pun intended!) Play-Doh® has helped teach us about science, architecture & inspired free play for millions of children including ourselves. So, this month we invite you to join us for some squishy & surprising science as we celebrate National Play-Doh® Day!

The invention of Play-Doh® was actually a fortunate accident. Way back in the 1930s, Noah McVicker created a substance that looked like putty out of flour, water, salt, boric acid and mineral oil. His family’s soap company — Kutol Products — in Cincinnati,Ohio, marketed his creation as wallpaper cleaner! McVicker’s special putty-like substance was an excellent wallpaper cleaner, because it didn’t contain any toxic chemicals, could be reused and would not stain the wallpaper. Eventually, teachers learned that the wallpaper cleaner could be used as a modeling compound to make art and craft projects at school.

It wasn’t until after World War II that Noah McVicker’s nephew, Joseph McVicker, joined the company and learned that their wallpaper cleaner was being used for arts and crafts in schools. Joseph thought it would be a good idea to give the product a new name — Play-Doh®and market it to schools, teachers and department stores.

The new product was an immediate success. In 1956, the McVickers started the Rainbow Crafts Company to make and sell Play-Doh®. Macy’s in New York and Marshall Field’s in Chicago began selling the product. The new company also began to advertise the product on popular children’s television shows, such as Captain Kangaroo. Within one year, its sales had already reached almost $3 million! Over time, the exact ingredients in Play-Doh® have changed. As technology has improved, so has PlayDoh®. Although the exact recipe is a secret, Play-Doh® remains a popular modeling compound for art and craft projects, because it is still nontoxic, easy to use and simple to clean up. 

Today, Play-Doh® is owned by a company named Hasbro that continues to make and sell the product through its Playskool line. In 2003, the Toy Industry Association added Play-Doh® to its “Century of Toys List,” which contains the 100 most memorable and creative toys of the last 100 years. Play-Doh® comes in a variety of bright and bold colors. There are also a series of related products and toys that make use of Play-Doh®. Since its “invention,” over 700 million pounds of Play-Doh® have been sold around the world!

Try it out!

Did you know you can make your own Play-Doh®?  It’s true! There are different recipes and lots of fun ways you can make a batch of Play-Doh® at home! Check out the Play-Doh® recipes below and pick one to try. If you don’t have all the ingredients on hand, you may need to head to the store first. Have fun!

Think About it Some More!

Visit the National Science Teachers Association for a guide to Play-Doh® science experiments! 

Do you have Play-Doh® memories as a child or with your students? Share your favorite Play-Doh® memories in the comments section below!

High Touch High Tech is the leader in innovative hands-on science and nature experiences for children, serving over 4 million children annually with 27 franchise locations across the United States, Canada, Turkey, Singapore and South Korea.

To learn more about franchise opportunities with High Touch High Tech, visit us online at

August 2013 E-News: Science of the Southpaw!

There’s no denying it. Left-handers are the odd men out.

Sure, lefties make up about 10 percent of the population — but, frankly, it seems like society has forgotten about them. Right-handed gadgets, awkwardly designed desks, cooking tools that fit comfortably in your right hand make the modern day conveniences not so convenient for those that are left-hand dominant.

What causes someone to become left-handed or often referred to as a southpaw? Scientists aren’t exactly sure, but research points to a complex collaboration between genes and environment. While no exact set of “leftie genes” have been discovered, people who dominantly use their left hands do have more left-handed family members. And researchers have found different brain wirings in righties vs. lefties. But no matter what it is that drives someone to be ambilevous, science has also uncovered a particular set of personality traits that left-handed people tend to have. 

So for all of you lefties, leftie-loving righties and ambidextrous folks out there — it’s time to brush up on your left-handed knowledge and help put an end to leftie discrimination once and for all. This month we say… let’s hear it for the Lefties!

1. Loud & Clear: Lefties hear speeches differently. 


People who are using their left hands when listening may more easily hear rapidly changing sounds than those who are using their right hands. Georgetown University researchers who conducted the study found that the left and right hemispheres of the brain specialize in different kinds of sounds — the left hemisphere, which controls the right hand, likes rapidly changing sounds like consonants, while the right hemisphere, which controls the left hand, likes slowly changing sounds, like syllables or intonation.

According to their study, if you’re waving an American flag while listening to a presidential candidate, the speech will sound slightly different to you depending on whether you’re holding the flag in your left or right hand. The research could ultimately result in better treatment for stroke and language disorders.

2. How You Handle Your Health: Does hand dominance determine your health?


Only about 10 percent of the population is left-handed. Now, here’s some food for thought: About 20 percent of people with schizophrenia dominantly use their left hands. Coincidence? Probably not, say scientists, who have also found an increased risk for dyslexia, ADHD, and certain mood disorders in left-handed people, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. 

Researchers are not exactly sure how to explain it, but many believe it’s related to how the brain is wired. Your noggin is divided into two halves — the left side and the right side. Most people (righties and lefties alike) rely on the brain’s left hemisphere for tasks like language functioning. However, about 30 percent of left-handed folks are either partial to the right hemisphere or have no dominant hemisphere at all. According to scientists, having one hemisphere dominate is much more efficient — and that’s why some left-handers are at an increased risk for learning impairments and brain disorders.

However, lefties may be in luck when it comes to other health conditions: A survey of more than 1.4 million participants, which was published in the journal Laterality, found that left-handers had lower rates of arthritis and ulcers.

3. Left Wing or Right Wing? Either way, we vote for Left-Handers!


Doesn’t matter which way they swing politically: A surprisingly high percentage of recent U.S. Presidents were on the left (in terms of handedness, of course).

The lengthy list of left-handed leaders includes four of the last seven commanders in chief — President Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Gerald Ford — as well as past presidents James Garfield and Harry Truman. In fact, there’s a rumor that Ronald Regan was born a leftie, but stringent school teachers converted him to a righty when he was young.

Should right-handed presidential wannabes fake it? Our penchant for left-handed U.S. Leaders is probably pure coincidence; however, some science suggests that left-handed politicians actually have an advantage in televised debates. As a whole, people tend to associate right-handed gestures with “good” and left-handed gestures with “bad,” according to the researchers. Since television presents a mirror image, the lefties are the ones who appear to gesture with their right hand (the “good” hand).

4. Out of Left Field: Southpaws Will Beat You In Sports. 

Golf legend Phil Mickelson; tennis ace Rafael Nadal; boxing champ Oscar de la Hoya — did you know that a number of your favorite sports superstars are lefties? 

Actually, left-handers may have the advantage in sports that involve two opponents facing each other, such as tennis, boxing and baseball, according to an MSNBC review of the book “The Puzzle of Left-Handedness” by Rik Smits. The author chalks it up to the fact that those sporty Southpaws get a lot more opportunity to practice against their dominant right handed opponents than vice versa (since there are so many more righties out there).

Talk about a homerun for lefties!

5. Leave the Celebrating to the Lefties: They Have Their Own Day! 

Mark your calendar — August 13 is International Left-Hander’s Day.

Lefties across the globe will be celebrating the event, which was first launched in 1992 by the UK-based Left-Hander’s Club to increase awareness about the left-handed lifestyle. According to the group’s Web site, it’s a day “when left-handers everywhere can celebrate their sinistrality and increase public awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of being left-handed.” If you’re a righty, don’t worrythis holiday doesn’t discriminate against dominance.

How should you observe the occasion? Create a “leftie zone” — a designated area of personal space where everything must be done in a left-handed fashion, from your workspace setup to the way you use cutlery. And that rule also extends to any right-handers who happen to enter the leftie zone!

Don’t get left out of the celebration! Check out these free resources for great ways to get involved with your own activities or Left-Hander’s Day Party! 

All over the planet, nine out of 10 people, on average, favor their right hand for writing, throwing and so on. Despite more than a century and a half of research, scientists have yet to find an exact answer for what determines a person’s handedness. But, did you know that hand dominance stretches way beyond the bounds of being human. Many mammals, including our closest living relatives the chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas, exhibit a preferred hand. Dogs do too!

But the shocking science doesn’t stop there! You can discover much more fascinating facts about your left-handed friends at  From cavemen to can-openers to left-handed staircases, check out these great resources to learn even more incredible things about your left-handed friends: Why Lefties are So Rare

Look Mom – Both Hands! The Science of Life’s Extremes: Right vs. Left Handed

What Makes a Lefty: Myths and Mysteries Persist

Explain It! The Truth About Left-Handed People