Setting the World A-BUZZ, It’s National Kazoo Day!

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
National Kazoo Day
January 28, 2021!

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Our story begins in Macon, Georgia in the 1840’s. A
gentleman named Alabama Vest and his buddy Thaddeus von Clegg invented the
kazoo! They were trying to re-imagine an old African instrument called a horn mirliton
or onion flute.  Mirliton, is a device in which sound
waves produced by the player’s voice vibrate a membrane, thereby imparting
a buzzing quality to the vocal or instrumental sound. It was popular
during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The building materials of the horn mirliton were of a primitive nature. The tube was
made from the horn of a cow and the
membrane consisted of the eggshells of spiders.
The African horn mirliton was used to distort voices at tribe gatherings. Similar to when an actor would put on a
mask during a theatrical performance. 

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Thaddeus von Clegg

In the meantime, Alabama Vest and Thaddeus von Clegg
presented their version of the mirliton to the world at the Georgia State Fair
in 1852 as the “Down South Submarine.”

Later, a gentleman named Emil Sorg, who was a travelling salesman, came across a Vest and von Clegg “Down South Submarine” on one of his business trips. He showed great interest in it and may have been the first person to have coined the name “kazoo.”

He was eager to get this instrument into mass-production. With this thought in mind Emil Sorg travelled to New York. Here he became partners with Michael McIntyre, who was an iron smith. Together Sorg and McIntyre created the first production of the kazoo in the year 1912. McIntyre had now gained enough knowledge to maintain the production of kazoos all by himself. All he needed was a larger factory. In 1913 he separated from Emil Sorg and teamed up with Harry Richardson who owned a big metal factory. In 1916 McIntyre and Richardson renamed their partnership and turned it into a company called The Original American Kazoo Company.

other manufacturers of kazoos tried to get in on the sales, the pressure of competition
was rising. Therefore, McIntyre filed for a United States patent. It was a
feeling of great satisfaction and pride when McIntyre received his product
patent in 1923.

The Original American Kazoo Company in Eden, NY started manufacturing kazoos for the masses in a two-room shop and factory, utilizing a couple dozen jack presses for cutting, bending, and crimping metal sheets. These machines were used for many decades. By 1994, the company produced 1.5 million kazoos per year and was the only manufacturer of metal kazoos in North America. The factory, in nearly its original configuration, is now called The Kazoo Factory and Museum. It is still operating, and it is open to the public for tours.

Kazoo Fun Facts:
– The kazoo was played often in popular music in the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s
– Kazoos can be made of plastic, metal, wood, or other materials. Each has unique sound qualities.
– The tone quality of a kazoo is determined by the quality of the membrane or resonator
– You don’t blow into a kazoo; you HUM into it – HUM into the BIG end of the kazoo
– Kazoos are not toys – they are musical instruments in the mirliton or membranophone family

Check out these AWESOME Kazoo Tunes:

If you’re feeling the “good vibrations” from your kazoo, check
out our harmonica and roaring cup at-home experiments to create your own little
music band! Find lesson plan, supplies, and tutorial videos here:

Roaring Cup
Lesson Plan:
Tutorial Video:

Lesson Plan:
Tutorial Video:


Cheese Please!

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
National Cheese Lovers Day
January 20, 2021!

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It seems people just love cheese. In fact, we love everything about it! Many books have even been written about cheese directly, or its impact on our human culture and society. Many people may even be familiar with Spencer Johnson’s book “Who Moved My Cheese!” Now this book isn’t exactly about cheese, cheese is actually a metaphor. But I won’t reveal that here, you will need to read the book.

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Ruminant animals include: cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo, deer, elk, giraffes, and camels

Where did humans love for cheese begin? The production of cheese predates recorded history beginning well over 7,000 years ago. Humans likely developed cheese and other dairy foods by accident, storing and transporting milk in bladders made of ruminant’s stomachs. Inside the stomach of ruminants lies a special enzyme called rennet.  Which is an enzyme in cow’s stomachs that cause curdling. There is no conclusive evidence indicating where cheese-making originated, but historians feel it emerged in the following areas: Europe, Central Asia, Middle East, and Sahara regions.

Some fun facts about cheese:

  • Stored in a container lined with an animals
    stomach, enzymes from the stomach separated the milk into curds (solids) &
    whey (liquids).
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Liquid cheese whey
  • It takes 10 pounds of milk to make just 1 pound
    of cheese. So, maybe just eat that single serving vs. the whole pound!
  • Over 25% of cheese in the U.S. is made in
    Wisconsin. There’s a reason why Wisconsin residents are called cheeseheads
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  • There are more than 2000 varieties of cheese
    found worldwide! Talk about eating your way around the globe! YUM!
  • Aged to perfection, cheese caves are a real
    thing. Before the invention of the refrigerator, cheesemakers used caves to age
    their cheese. The cheese cave is still a common practice.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Cheese Cave
  • Curd sizes yield different types of cheese.
    Those large curds are big old softies – and tend to yield, you guessed it,
    softer cheeses. The smaller the curd, the harder the cheese!
  • There is more cheese produced around the world
    than coffee, tobacco, tea, and cocoa beans combined!
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Cottage Cheese is a soft cheese curd

The story of cheese and Man’s love of cheese is certainly
clear. In the U.S, one-third of all milk produced goes into cheese
production. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry! That alone deserves

Check out our Changing Condition: Curds & Whey at-home experiment today and see with your own eyes how milk separates!

Share pictures of your experiment on our
Facebook page at:


Dragons: Science or Science Fiction?

Join HTHT in celebrating
Appreciate a Dragon Day
January 16th!

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Since it is Appreciate a Dragon Day on January
16th, we started wondering, just where does the idea of Dragons come
from, anyway?  Why does this mythical
beast appear in ancient myths and legends all over the world, from The British
Isles all the way to East Asia? 

Ancient people did not have the kind of
scientific knowledge that we do today, but to survive in a world without
supermarkets, antibiotics, or electricity, they had to become close observers
of the natural world and experts in their environment.  This means that legends of Dragons in many
world cultures were actually based on careful observations of the natural

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Dinosaur fossil

In Ancient Greece around 500 BC, some amazing philosophers were hard at work observing nature.  One of them, Xenophanes, was one of the first known people to identify and examine fossils, suggesting that the world had been through many changes and the existence of shells deep in the rock of high cliffs must be evidence of that.  We know the Greeks were aware of fossils, and some may even have seen the types of dinosaur fossils that so closely resemble the classic European-style dragon.  Herodotus, the Ancient Greek traveler, and historian went deep into the deserts of Arabia and observed “the backbones and ribs of such serpents as it is impossible to describe: of the ribs there were a multitude of heaps. . . ” He ascribed these bones to winged serpents that had been killed by ibises.   Thinkers like Herodotus influenced the European conception of dragons as a fearsome, fire-breathing, flying reptile.  Because Dragons were perceived in their fossil state as fierce beings coming out of the Earth, today the European Dragon is often found deep in a cave, crankily hoarding the earth’s wealth, like Smaug in The Hobbit.

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European Dragon

A European Dragon is generally not a nice animal, but a Chinese Dragon is!  Chinese Dragons bring blessings, abundance, and luck, particularly in the form of much-needed water for life.  Why?  In China, there is no shortage of fossils, and ancient naturalists certainly encountered them from time to time.  As far as we know, the conception of the Dragon in Ancient China goes back even beyond the time of the Greeks, to the time Chinese people were starting to build their 5,000-year-old culture.  In the heartland of Ancient China, water was scarce and difficult to manage, but desperately needed in order to support a growing population.  The Ancient Chinese became experts in observing the patterns of clouds, the movement of air and rain, and the flow of water.  Think of a long, curving river seen from the air, a rainbow, or a gracefully curving, wispy cloud high in the sky and you can see the basic natural pattern that inspired the Chinese Dragon.  Chinese Dragons are creatures of the water, and instead of fierce guardians of treasure deep in the earth, much Chinese mythology sees Dragons as intelligent, benevolent creatures that dwell in rich palaces under the water, especially in rivers.  When a Chinese Dragon appears, it means luck and prosperity, not fire and blood!

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Chinese Dragon

We may think of Ancient people as superstitious because they did not have the detailed scientific understanding of the world that we do today.  But in fact, mythological things like Dragons were based on careful observations of the natural world.  Whether it was observing fossils or the movement of rain clouds, Ancient people were doing their own kind of “proto-scientific” observations and experiments which allowed them to survive in a harsh world without the technology that we as modern people take for granted.  Thanks our Ancient ancestor’s observations and their creativity, we have been able to enjoy the magic of Dragons for millennia.

It is not a very
big stretch of the imagination to look at modern day birds and see
characteristics that overlap with dinosaurs and even the mythical dragon. Well,
we have learned through science that birds are actually descendants of
dinosaurs. Join us for this week’s at-home experiment of the month and explore
the various species of birds, their most popular attribute – their beaks, and
how they have adapted to survive in every climate & environment! Check out the
lesson plan, grab your supplies, and take our Bird Beak Challenge!

The Southern Hemisphere: What’s going on down there?

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Is the earth round? I think we can all agree
that it is. What we are going to tell you next, spoiler alert, will remind you
of your high school geometry class.

A great
circle is the largest possible
circle that can be drawn around a sphere. All spheres have great circles. If you cut a sphere at one
of its great circles, you’d cut it exactly in half. The Earth is not a perfect
sphere, but it maintains the general shape. All the meridians on Earth are great circles. Meridians,
including the prime meridian, are the north-south lines we use to help describe exactly where we are
on the Earth. All these lines of longitude meet at the poles, cutting the Earth neatly in half. These halves are
called the Northern & Southern hemispheres.

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Let’s talk about the hemispheres of the earth.
The earth is divided into 2 by the equator. Can you go to the equator? Actually,
you can! Many countries have now created tourist attractions at the equator!
However, you cannot “see” the equator as it is an imaginary line splitting the
earth in half. Creating the Northern hemisphere and the Southern hemisphere.

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you ever wondered when man first thought about the equator and the hemispheres?
The earliest documented mention of the round earth concept dates from
around the 5th century BC, when it was mentioned by ancient Greek
philosophers. In the 3rd century BC, Hellenistic
astronomy established the roughly spherical shape of the earth, as a
physical fact and calculated the Earth’s circumference. This knowledge was
gradually adopted throughout the “old world” during the 3rd-8th
centuries and ongoing during the “Middle Ages.”  A practical
demonstration of Earth’s sphericity was achieved by Ferdinand Magellan
and Juan Sebastian’s circumnavigation from 1519-1522. The argument had
officially been settled…the earth is round!

to the equator, or the line of 0 degrees latitude, divides the earth into
the Northern and Southern hemispheres. There are differences in
the climates of the Northern and Southern hemispheres because of
the Earth’s seasonal tilt toward and away from the sun.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

occurs because deep inside the earth, liquid iron is flowing and generating the
earth’s magnetic field, which protects our atmosphere against harmful radiation
from the sun. This field changes over time and behaves differently in different
parts of the world. The field can even change polarity completely! The magnetic
north and south poles can actually switch places. This is called a
reversal and last happened 780,000 years ago. Quite some time ago!

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Magnetic Field Lines

South America and Southern Africa, there is an enigmatic or difficult to
determine magnetic region called the South Atlantic Anomaly, where the field is
a lot weaker than one would expect. Weak and unstable magnetic fields are
thought to precede magnetic reversals, so some have argued this feature may be
evidence that we are facing one.

new study published June 12, 2020, in the Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences,  has uncovered how long the
field in the South Atlantic has been acting up – and sheds light on whether it
is something to worry about.

magnetic fields make us more prone to magnetic storms that have the potential
to knock out electronic infrastructure, including power grids. The magnetic
field of the South Atlantic Anomaly is already so weak that it can adversely
affect satellites and their technology when they fly past it. The strange
region is thought to be related to a patch of magnetic field that is pointing a
different direction to the rest at the top of the planet’s liquid outer core at
a depth of 1,795 miles (2,889 km) within the Earth.

“reverse flux patch” itself has grown over the last 250 years. But we don’t
know whether it is simply a one-off product of the chaotic motions of the outer
core fluid or rather the latest in a series of anomalies within this particular
region over long time frames.

it is a non-recurring feature, then its current location is not significant –
it could happen anywhere, perhaps randomly. But if this is the case, the
question of whether its increasing size and depth could mark the start of a new
reversal remains.

it is the latest in a string of features reoccurring over millions of years,
however, then this would make a reversal less likely. But it would require a
specific explanation for what was causing the magnetic field to act strangely
in this particular place.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Saint Helena Island

find out, scientists travelled to Saint Helena – an island in the middle of the
South Atlantic Ocean. This island, where Napoleon was exiled to and eventually
died in 1821, is made of volcanic rocks. These originate from two separate
volcanoes and were erupted from between eight million and 11.5 million years

discovered when volcanic rocks cool down, small grains of iron-oxide in them
get magnetized and therefore save the direction and strength of the Earth’s
magnetic field at that time and place. A group of scientists collected some of
those rocks and brought them back to their lab in Liverpool, where they carried
out experiments to find out what the magnetic field was like at the time of
eruption, potentially 11 million years ago.

results showed us that the field at Saint Helena had vastly different
directions throughout the time of eruption, showing us that the magnetic field
in this region was much less stable than in other places. It therefore
challenges the idea that the abnormality has only been around for only a few
centuries. Instead, the whole region has likely been unstable on a timescale of
millions of years. This implies the current situation is not as rare as some
scientists had assumed, making it less likely that it represents the start of a
reversal. Please feel free to re-read the last 2 paragraphs!

could explain the odd magnetic region? The liquid outer core is generating
moves (by convection) at such high speeds that changes can occur on truly short,
human timescales. The outer core interacts with a layer called the mantle on
top of it, which moves far slower. That means the mantle is unlikely to have
changed very much in the last ten million years.

seismic waves passing through the Earth, we have some insight into the
structure of the mantle. Underneath Africa there is a large feature in
the lowermost mantle where the waves move extra slow through the Earth –
meaning there is most likely an unusually warm region of the lowermost mantle.
This possibly causes a different interaction with the outer core at that
specific location, which could  explain the strange behavior of the
magnetic field in the South Atlantic.

aspect of the inside of the Earth is the inner core, which is a solid ball the
size of Pluto beneath the outer core. This solid feature is slowly growing, but
not at the same rate everywhere. There is a possibility that it is growing
faster on one side, causing a flow inside the outer core that is reaching the
outer boundary with the rocky mantle just under the Atlantic ocean. This
may be causing irregular behavior of the magnetic field on the long timescales found
on Saint Helena.

Although there are still many questions about the exact cause of the irregular behavior in the South Atlantic, this study shows us that it has been around for millions of years and is most likely a result of geophysical interactions in the Earth’s mysterious interior.

Interested in learning more about the hemispheres and magnetism? Try our at-home experiment and make your very own compass! Grab your materials and follow the instructions here:

Yael Annemiek Engbers, Ph.D. candidate, University of Liverpool 
Andrew Biggin, Professor of Palaeomagnetism, University of Liverpool