Soaring Science of the Hot Air Balloon!

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
Hot Air Balloon Day
June 5th!

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How many balloons does it take for a person to fly? The correct answer is one. And we’re not talking about holding on for dear life at the end of a balloon on a rope. We’re talking about a giant balloon with a basket under it… a Hot Air Balloon! 

Now we all know what a balloon is. It’s basically a flexible bag filled with air or some kind of gas. And we often associate them with kid’s parties, but believe you me there’s a lot more to the story of balloons than cakes and clowns!

Today, balloons of all shapes and sizes are used for all sorts of things, from lighting up sporting events to advertising. Film companies use them for lighting and providing birds eye views of football games.  And scientists use them to gather vital information from the Earth’s atmosphere, and even occasionally send them into space.  Oh, and they’re also quite fun to fly and are, in fact, man’s oldest form of manned-air transport.

Hot air balloons are an odd flying apparatus. They don’t look like anything else that flies. They aren’t used like other flying objects to get people from one place to another. They only are flown at certain times and in certain conditions. They don’t have a motor or anything mechanical with moving parts. Hot air balloons operate solely based on the magic and simplicity of science and physics.

So, as we celebrate Hot Air Balloon Day this June 5th, check out these FUN FACTS we’ve collected regarding this simple and scientific marvel!

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

A Rooster, a duck & a sheep get into a hot air balloon:

In 1783, the first hot air balloon was set to fly over the heads of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the French court in Versailles. Like monkeys in space, this odd assortment of animals was chosen to test the effects of flight. Sheep, thought to be similar to people, would show the effects of altitude on a land dweller, while ducks and roosters, which could already fly (albeit at different heights), would act as controls in the experiment. The balloon flew on a tether for 8 minutes, rising 1500 feet into the air and traveling 2 miles before being brought safely to the ground.

Rise & Fall of Olympic Ballooning:

Considered to have been a demonstration sport, hot air ballooning enthusiasts saw their hopes of becoming official Olympians rise and fall all during the 1900 Olympic Games.

All in all, 61 men and 3 women competed in ballooning, which consisted of 18 events. Judges marked contestants on various points, like distance, duration and elevation.

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Rainy Skies… No One Flies:

Hot air balloon flights are not possible during the rain. The heat produced by the balloon is hot enough to boil the water on the top of the balloon which can destroy the fabric.

When the forecast calls for sunshine, rides are usually launched early in the morning when the atmosphere is calmer.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

One for the Record Books:

The longest balloon flight was by the Virgin Pacific Flyer piloted by Per Lindstrand from Sweden and Richard Branson from the UK. They flew from Japan to Northern Canada on January 15, 1991.

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Finding Your Way:

Despite modern day technology, balloonists still use basic scientific methods & tools to navigate their way through the skies. Balloon pilots use an instrument called a Piball to see the exact location the wind blows. It is simply a helium filled balloon. This method helps pilots see if the wind may potentially bring the balloon into restricted airspace and dangerous locations.

Image Source: Rainbow Ryders

Chasing the Dream:

Balloon flights have a chase crew. True to its term, this is a ground crew that follows the balloon’s flight all through the entire trip. The chase crew have vehicles with room to accommodate passengers, the pilot and the balloon itself that can weigh over 250 lbs.

Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Colorful hot air balloons take to the sky at the Annual Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.

Where in the World:

If you want to take a ride in the skies, one of the best places in the United States to give it a try is Albuquerque, New Mexico. You can take part in the 9-day festival that includes approximately 750 balloons from 18 countries across the globe. Or if you are feeling more adventurous, check out this list of the 17 Best Hot Air Balloon Rides in the World!

For many people, taking to the skies afloat a giant balloon is a thrilling adventure because it allows for a real sense of flight. In recent years, companies have popped up around the world offering once-in-a-lifetime hot air balloon rides for a variety of occasions & reasons including sightseeing. 

From the Grand Canyon to the Grand Caymans, sightseeing as you soar in a balloon allows you to interact with nature the old-fashioned way that rises above the modernization & evolution of aviation.

You’ll learn more interesting characteristics and heritage of this simple yet amazing activity as you enjoy your very own hot air balloon ride. But until then, check out these great resources that will keep you afloat! 


And if taking to the skies is not your cup of tea….or it’s simply not the right time, you can create your very own hot air balloon and test both your aviation & navigation skills with our at-home experiment:
Tissue Paper Hot Air Balloon.

Composting Day is Every Day!

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
Learn About Composting Day
May 29th!

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Were you raised to “clean your plate,” no matter
what? Does the idea of wasted food still make you uncomfortable?  You might not like this statistic, then: The
United States wastes more food than any other country on earth.  In one year, we waste 40 million tons of
food, which represents more than 30-40% of our total food supply.  Most of the waste in US landfills is actually
made up of discarded food!  What can we
do about this massive waste?  Composting
can help!

A lot of responsibility for this massive waste goes
to you, the individual – if you are living in America, you waste an average of one
pound of food a day
.  It is estimated
that 43% of all food waste comes from individual homes, with another hefty
portion coming from the restaurant industry. 
Aside from the ethical issue of wasting food while so many in the world
go hungry, food waste also spells trouble for the environment. There are many
reasons for food waste, but as “Compost King” Paul Sellew explains, no matter
what the reason, the fact is that bioavailable nutrients in food are being
locked up in landfills and not returning to biological systems that need
them.  The constant loss of bioavailable
nutrients into landfills, where once there was a natural cycle of growth and
decay, depletes our soil rapidly and jeopardizes our ability to grow more food
in the future.

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If you aren’t feeling great about having to toss
that extra muffin, and wanting to do something that is genuinely eco-friendly,
why not give composting a try?  You can
turn food waste into productive, nutrient rich soil that will not only feed
plants, but also the microbiome of animals, fungus, and bacteria that make up
healthy soil.  Even if it’s just enough
compost for a corner of your yard, you will be helping an essential natural
cycle complete itself and doing a small part to help the earth remain in balance.

Composting is quite easy to do! With a few simple
materials and your organic food waste, you can begin composting today! Participate
in this week’s at-home experiment, Compost in a Cup! See links below for our
lesson plan and tutorial video!

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Compost in a Cup Lesson Plan:

Compost in a Cup Tutorial Video:

You can also learn more about composting by reading our previous blog posts:  

Science Made Fun Blog: Compost
Science Made Fun Blog: Understanding Compost


Shocking Statistics on Food Waste:

The King of Compost explains how food waste damages ecosystems:

A User-Friendly Article from NPR to help you get Started Composting:

What is Sound?

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
Build a Musical Instrument Day
May 22nd!

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Close your eyes for a moment and listen to your environment.  What sounds do you hear?  Unless you are in the quietest place on earth, Stratfield Labs’ special Anechoic Chamber, your ears will easily tune to even the little sounds in your environment, and even little sounds can have big effects on us.  When a sound is unpleasant to our ears, we call it noise.  When it is sweet and pleasing, we call it notes, or music.  Sounds are so much a part of our life that we don’t often think about the incredible process that gets sounds from their source to our brains, and the influence that certain sounds can have on us.  So, what is a sound, anyway?  And how does sound affect our imaginations, health, and moods?

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All sounds are made the same way:  they are vibrations.  A vibration is when something moves back and forth incredibly fast, faster even than our eyes can see.  These vibrations transmit from the object to the surrounding particles in the air.  A vibrating object causes the air molecules around it to vibrate in the same way as it is vibrating.  Then those air molecules cause the next air molecules to vibrate the same way, and so on and so on — all the way up to your eardrum, which is a membrane made to catch vibrations and pass them through the intricate anatomy of the ear.  When they reach your ear, they are translated into electrical signals that can be understood by your brain.  Sound is, basically, a vibration that travels across the air in a wave-like pattern, until it touches us with its energy right in our ear!

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How many waves a sound vibration has in a given period is known as its frequency.  Higher frequency sounds pack in many waves, while lower frequency sounds have less.  Although still experimental and theoretical at this stage, there is some fascinating work from many different fields of science that indicate sound frequency and vibration may have great potential to benefit humanity.  One of the greatest scientists of all time, Nikola Tesla, famously said that “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration.”  Among his many projects, for example, was one to turn vibrations into electricity that could be easily shared across the world.  Scientists on the frontier of sound as medicine, such as Dr. Lee Bartel, are even indicating that certain frequencies of sound, especially 40 HZ, may stimulate the fading neurons of Alzheimer’s patients into better function over time.  There is even evidence that certain sound frequencies may destroy cancer cells.

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Although the potential of sound to impact things like global
energy and human health are just beginning to be understood, it’s a fact that
the vibrations of sound can have a powerful impact on our well-being.  Just think of a time that a loved one’s voice
touched your heart, or a song on the radio changed your day from a bad one to a
good one. 

If you want to explore the amazing world of sounds, vibrations, and frequencies for yourself, check out our at-home Harmonica experiment and make some good vibrations with your own home-made instrument!

Harmonica Lesson Plan:

Harmonica Tutorial Video:


Stratfield Labs Anechoic Chamber, the quietest place on

Classic Bill Nye the Science Guy Video on Sound:

An Introduction to Nikola Tesla:

Possibilities in Sound as Medicine:

Resonant Frequencies as a Possible Treatment for Cancer:

Top 10 Toad-ally Bizarre Frogs!

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
Frog Jumping Day
May 13th!

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dating back to Mark Twain’s story, “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog”, people have been celebrating Frog Jumping Day since 1865! But no one takes this day more seriously than the residents of Calaveras County, California! With day-long festivals and activities including the annual Frog Jumping Contest, frogs take center stage on this day, May 13th!

Although believed by some to simply be, “slimy creatures”, frogs can perform astounding feats! Some species of frogs live only on land, some live in water, while others live in water and on land. These tailless amphibians can be found almost everywhere, but the highest population is found in tropical forests. There are nearly 5,000 different species!

So, in honor of Frog Jumping Day, we invite you to join us in discovering some of the most toad-ally cool creatures on Earth!

Top 10 Most Bizarre & Unusual Frogs on the Planet!

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Tomato Frog

 #10 – Tomato Frog
This frog is definitely NOT green! As colored as red ketchup, the Tomato frog’s bright color is meant to warn predators that it is not safe to eat.  As a defense, these frogs secrete a gummy substance that gets in a predator’s eyes.  The Tomato frog is found only in Madagascar.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Glass Frog

#9 —  The Glass Frog
Glass frogs are nocturnal tree frogs that live in the humid forests of Central and South America. Their name comes from the translucent skin on the underside of their bodies. In many species the glass frogs’ internal organs, even a beating heart, can be seen. This see-through skin helps them blend into the forest.

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Ornate Horned Frog

#8–The Ornate Horned Frog
This frog is nicknamed the Pac-Man frog because of its enormous mouth and insatiable appetite. They are a “sit-and-wait” ambush predator and hide well-disguised on the ground or in leaf litter. Ornate horned frogs can swallow birds, insects, mice, or even other frogs whole. This species can be found in Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil.

#7 — The Turtle Frog
Visit the Western Australia Museum to view images of this unique frog!

This unusual-looking frog looks like a turtle that has lost its shell. It has a short, blunt snout, little beady eyes, and short, fat limbs. It lives underground and burrows in sandy soil and feeds on termite colonies. The Turtle frog only lives in the coastal plains and woodlands of extreme Southwestern Australia.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Wallace’s Flying Frog

#6 — Wallace’s Flying Frog
These frogs leap and glide from tree to tree by spreading out their huge webbed feet like parachutes. Their oversized toe pads help them stick to tree trunks and to land softly.  Flying frogs inhabit the dense tropical jungles of Malaysia and Borneo.

#5 — The Pinocchio-Nose Frog
Visit National Geographic to view images of this unique frog!

The Pinocchio-nosed frog was discovered recently during a wildlife expedition to Indonesia’s remote Foja Mountains. This long-nosed frog, a tree frog, has a spike on its nose that points upward when the male is calling but deflates and points downward when he is less active.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Pipa Toad

#4 —  The Pipa or Surinam Toad
This Surinam toad is the world’s flattest amphibian—in fact, it looks like the victim of an unfortunate road accident. Yet this frog’s unusual shape helps hide it among the leaves and plant debris in the streams they inhabit in the Amazon River Basin of South America.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
World’s Smallest Frog

#3 — The World’s Smallest Frog
Generally speaking, higher altitude means larger animals. But the world’s smallest known frog species lives high in the Andes Mountains of southern Peru, between 9,925 and 10,466 feet.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Goliath Frog at Harvard’s Museum of Natural History

#2 —  The Goliath Frog – World’s Largest Frog
The Goliath Frog is the largest surviving specie of toads on Earth. Its size reaches 33 cm in length and it weighs up to 7lbs. This species lives mainly in western Africa, near Gabon. Goliath frogs can live up to 15 years and eat scorpions, insects and small frogs.

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Poison Dart Frog

#1 — The Poisonous Dart Frog
Poison dart frogs inhabit Central and South America. Unlike most frogs, this species is active during the day and almost always has a bright-colored body. Many subspecies are in danger of extinction. American Indians used their poison for arrows and darts.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Children playing leapfrog

Now that you’ve learned a bit more about our frog friends, you know you want to jump around just like they do! So grab some friends and play a fun game of leap frog. Maybe even give us a, “ribbet” as you hop around!

And all that jumping around has got to make frogs hungry, right? Well, did you know that small frogs eat insects such as flies and moths, as well as snails, slugs, and worms? They use their long tongues and sticky saliva to catch their prey. And to smell their prey, a frog uses its special smelling organ located in the roof of its mouth. This special organ is called the Jacobson’s Organ and it helps frogs to detect food!

We invite you to complete our Bugs of Summer at-home experiment. Using your imagination, pretend you are the frog and see if you can “smell” your dinner? Grab your supplies and follow the instructions here:

Space…the final frontier

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
Space Day
May 7th!

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Space…The final frontier! We all remember these immortal words spoken by Captain Kirk, of the starship Enterprise. It was on a fictional 5-year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. These are such strong words, that have inspired a generation of people to seek interest in space exploration.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The space age started in 1957 with the launch of the Russian satellite, Sputnik. The world’s first satellite was the size of a beach ball, weighed only 183.9 pounds, and took about 98 minutes to orbit Earth. That launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the space age and the Great Space Race.

In response to
this “Sputnik moment,” the U.S. government undertook
several policy actions, including the establishment of the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency (DARPA), enhancement of research funding, and reformation of
science and technology being taught at schools.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

launched the Mercury, Apollo, and space shuttle programs over the next 20
years. The United States lead the world in space exploration and achievements.

In 2002,
SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp) was founded by Elon Musk. SpaceX
is an American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services
company.  SpaceX’s goal is to reduce
space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars.  SpaceX manufactures the Falcon 9 and Falcon
Heavy launch vehicles, several rocket engines, Dragon cargo and crew
spacecraft, and Starlink satellites. SpaceX is on a mission to Mars, along
with NASA.

Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster served as the payload for the February 2018 Falcon Heavy test flight and became an artificial satellite of the Sun. “Starman”, a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit, occupies the driver’s seat!

National Space Day is dedicated to the extraordinary achievements, benefits and opportunities in the exploration and use of space. This day is designed to stimulate interest in space.

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also called outer space, refers to the void that exists between the Earth’s
upper atmosphere and other celestial bodies such as planets in the known and
unknown universe. While the term space might make it seem like the vast expanse
of the universe beyond the Earth’s atmosphere is empty, it is in fact, not
empty at all. Space is full of different forms of radiation and lots of debris
from the formation of our solar system. Some of this debris is in the form of
meteors, comets, and asteroids.

So, on
this Space Day, be sure to let your imaginations soar, and tap into your own
space curiosity.

Image Source: Daniel Shaw
Space Camp

While you’re
at it, tap into your inner-astronaut and learn more about Space with this week’s
at-home experiment, Space Case. See the stars twinkle and the universe expand
with simple materials and our easy-to-follow lesson plan.