The OTHER Hobbit: You might know Bilbo and Frodo, but have you met “Flo?”

The Little Lady herself.
Elisabeth Daynès
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here at High Touch High Tech we’re huge fans of The Lord of The Rings AND Paleoanthropology.  So, in celebration of Hobbit Day on September 22nd, we invite you, a human of the Race of Men, and all good citizens of the Shire, Tooks, Brandybucks, and Bagginses alike, to meet your new cousin, the other Hobbit.  Her name is Flo, The Little Lady of Flores. She’s about 18,000 years old. Flo is the most complete skeleton ever found of the tiny hominin known to science as Homo Floresiensis, a mysterious, child-sized human relative that had big feet and a clever brain (predilection for second breakfast not yet confirmed).


Emőke Dénes
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Discovered in 2003 on the Island of Flores in Indonesia and immediately nicknamed “Hobbits,” the tiny hominins represent a jaw-dropping twist in the already thrilling tale of human evolution.  Showing behaviors found in other hominins such as Homo Erectus, perhaps their closest relative, these other Hobbits did what many of the human family were known to do – use tools, exhibit complex hunting behaviors, and possibly even use fire.  Except they did it all at only 3 feet tall, on an island populated with deadly Komodo Dragons that would have made Smaug jealous! 

The H. Floresiensis version of Sting.
M. W. Moore
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is just the beginning of the tale of these brave hobbits. Even more mysterious than the Elves sailing to the West, somehow H. Floresiensis undertook their own impossible journey to reside on Flores.  It was thought that H. Erectus was the first hominin to leave Africa about 1.5 million years ago, heading north towards East Asia and south through Indonesia over a series of land bridges.  However, the Island of Flores is on the other side of a major geographic barrier to migration known as “Wallace’s Line.” Wallace’s Line is large stretch of open ocean once thought too wide for human ancestors to cross, and was believed to have only been crossed by the more sophisticated Homo Sapiens about 50,000 years ago.  The Hobbits provided yet another twist to the story of human evolution when they were found living comfortably on the other side of Wallace’s Line.  How did they get there?  It remains, and perhaps will stay, a huge mystery. 

Wallace’s Line.
Gunnar Ries
CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Not only was H. Floresiensis clocking in at 3 feet tall, and on the other side of an impossible geographical barrier, incredible archaeological evidence found in the region of Flores indicates that some type of hominin was making stone tools there as far back as 890,000 years!  Yet little Lady Flo’s skeleton dates to only 18,000 years ago, introducing a possibility that these tiny Hobbits, much like their cousins in Middle-Earth, may have coexisted with other groups of hominins, and could possibly even have had passing encounters with Homo Sapiens.  People indigenous to Flores Island have long told tales of a tiny race of hairy people with flat foreheads. Could it be that there are actual folk memories of an early human ancestor? 

An H. Floresiensis with a favorite prey item, the Marabou stork.
I. van Noortwijk
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There is so much yet to discover about Homo Floresiensis, and their place in the tale of human evolution.  What we do know for sure is that because of their miniature stature, unbelievable location, and mysterious time frame, these Hobbits are full of surprises, indeed.

An overview of H. Floresiensis: https://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/homo-floresiensis

A Paleoanthropologist discusses the uniqueness and mystery of the Hobbits: https://humanorigins.si.edu/multimedia/videos/hobbits-flores-indonesia

Could modern Pygmy people living on Flores actually be related to H. Floresiensis? https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/news-homo-floresiensis-hobbit-genetics-dna-pygmy-flores-island?loggedin=true

Why is Southeast Asian Paleoanthropology so full of surprises? https://www.sciencenews.org/article/ancient-dna-skeleton-woman-indonesia-peopling-southeast-asian-islands

Meet Your Microbes

You.  Yeah YOU.  Guess what?  You are positively crawling with microbes.  Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa.   An average-sized human is host to approximately 38 trillion microbes, which is slightly more than the number of actual cells in the human body.  The vast majority of them, up to 90%, reside in your gut.  Microbes are on every patch of your skin.  They’re on your eyeballs. In your ears.  In your lungs.  Wait!   Before you reach for the soap, consider what science has to say about your own personal microbiome.  The field of Microbiome Science is a new one, just 15 years old, but its findings reveal that the bugs you are carrying around are not usually pests or invaders.  They are symbiotes living in harmony with you, and they just might play a bigger role than you think in making you who you are.

Oral bacteria. Colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of mixed oral bacteria. The mouth contains a large number of bacteria, most of which are harmless or even beneficial. However, some bacteria can cause throat infections or cause the formation of plaque deposits on the teeth, which may lead to decay. Magnification: x10000 at 10cm wide.

In (and on) your body there is an entire ecosystem that you will never see.  According to scientist Richard Losick, there are thousands of different species of bacteria in the human body.  It appears that our own microbiomes are completely unique, too – it’s possible for two people to have absolutely no overlap in the microbes that inhabit their body.  There is evidence that our personal microbiomes have a surprising level of influence over us – from how much we eat, to how well we perform athletically, to perhaps even influencing our moods.  The new field of Microbiome Science has only begun and so far studies are small, usually involving studying stool samples from humans and then transplanting them into mice to study the effects.  If the idea of a fecal transplant turns your stomach, it might help to know that ingesting another person’s gut microbiome has been a proven therapy in humans to cure a severe antibiotic-resistant intestinal infection known as Clostridium Dificile.

Getting to know the world of microbes has occupied scientists ever since microbes were discovered, and there’s so much more to discover. This is a 19th century artist’s vision of “France in the Year 2000.” Jean Marc Cote(?), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

How much influence do microbes really have over us?  And how do they do it? Gut microbiota have been the best studied so far.  It appears that different kinds of intestinal flora can release different kinds of chemical signals that, via nerve cells, immune cells, or the bloodstream, can signal directly to the brain.  For example, we get our sensation of fullness after a meal from our hypothalamus region in the brain.  The hypothalamus gets its signal from chemicals released by enteroendocrine cells in the intestinal wall.  But the enteroendocrine cells themselves are triggered by chemical signals from gut bacteria.  If there is an overgrowth of dangerous bacteria in the gut, other bacteria can send chemical signals to the dendritic cells of the immune system, beginning an immune response.  Some evidence even indicates that certain gut microbes can trigger enterochromaffin cells, the cells that contain the “happy chemical” serotonin.

Although pretty, these Streptococcus Pyogenes bacteria would probably elicit an immune-signaling response from your microbiome.

Can the tiny hitchhikers in your gut really influence mood and overall quality of life?  At the University of Turku in Finland, Dr. Anna Katariina Aatsinki and her colleagues took stool samples from 301 babies.  Babies with the highest proportion of Bifidobacterium were also most likely to exhibit a trait the researchers called “positive emotionality,” a.k.a, happy babies.  In one of the more extensive studies, researchers at Harvard took samples from marathon runners before and after they ran Boston Marathon, and compared them with samples from non-runners.  The marathon runners had a much higher proportion of a bacteria called Veilonella Atypica, which was quite an interesting discovery for the researchers.  Veilonella is a microbe that metabolizes lactate, the same kind of lactate that is produced by muscles as a byproduct of a vigorous workout.  In turn, Veilonella releases propionate, which helps with oxygen metabolism and heart rate.  When mice received a transplant of the runners’ stool, and were given tiny treadmills to run on, the mice who received it ran 13% percent longer than the control group! 

These Eubacteria from yogurt are the friends you want in your microbiome! www.mantis.cz/mikrofotografie

Microbiome science is a growing field with tantalizing promise. Could the detectives of the future take “microbiome prints” to identify a suspect?  Could there be a future in which a dose of the right probiotics change a person’s life?  Science is indicating that even though our microbes are tiny, our microbiome is MIGHTY!

A true story of a fecal transplant, discussed by a doctor and patient at the Mayo Clinic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Py3zJHeVGmk

Dr. Richard Losick on Human Microbiome Research: https://www.ibiology.org/microbiology/human-microbiome/

The Microbe Menagerie (Paywall): https://archive.nationalgeographic.com/national-geographic/2020-jan/flipbook/101/

Drinking the Beer of Eternity: Scientific Research Indicates that Beer was the Inspiration for the Earliest Human Civilization

Beer of Eternity.  Dark Beer. Friend’s Beer. Sweet Beer. Beer of the Protector.  Although these might sound like what you see on the menu of a local craft brewery, they are actually names the Ancient Egyptians gave to their beloved beers thousands of years ago.  In honor of Beer Lover’s Day, Sept. 7, let’s explore the scientific research that indicates fascinating links between not just beer and civilization, but between fermentation and human evolution itself! 

The traditional story of early human history (in a nutshell): about 5 million years ago, early human ancestors came down from the trees to hunt and gather new sources of food.  Then, about 5,000 years ago Hunting and Gathering humans needed more food. Hunting and Gathering Humans domesticated grain and invented agriculture.  Humans settled down to farm and BOOM! Civilization! Then came Beer. 

The beverage was likely discovered when someone tried to cook sprouting grain, not knowing it contained enzymes that liquify the starches in grain into sugars.  Add a little yeast from the air into the concoction, and yeast began to do what it does best: consume sugar and release ethanol alcohol as a byproduct.  No matter how it was discovered, beer was – and remains – a huge hit.  The oldest written recipe on earth is a Sumerian clay tablet praising the Goddess of Beer, Ninkasi, and describing how to make beer.

This 5,000 year old cuneiform from Iran is not the Hymn to Ninkasi but it IS about beer. It records who got payouts of beer and how much. No information about who’s getting the next round could be found.
Jim Kuhn
CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

However, between the fields of Archaeology, Anthropology, Chemistry, Genetics, and Brewing Science, there is mounting evidence that indicates the human fixation on fermentation predates settled agricultural civilization by thousands, maybe even MILLIONS of years.  The chemical reaction by which yeast creates alcohol from sugar happens naturally in overripe fruit that falls from trees to the forest floor.  Steven Benner, a biologist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Alachua, Florida, helped discover a genetic mutation that occurred about 10 million years ago in the last shared ancestor between humans and apes.  This mutation produced an enzyme that allowed our distant forbears to digest alcohol 40 times faster than any other animal.  It is the reason that only humans and great apes experience such a multitude of pleasant psychoactive effects from alcohol. 


Pankaj Boruah
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Benner and his team elucidated “The Drunken Monkey Hypothesis,” proposing that what actually nudged our ancient ancestors out of the trees and onto the forest floor was the search for delicious, nutrient rich, and pleasingly fermented fruit!  In Benner’s words, “You could say we came out of the trees to get a beer.”

Another challenge to traditional notions of early human history is the fact that archaeological and chemical evidence indicates humans may have been brewing up the good stuff long before Urban Civilization as we know it was a twinkle in anyone’s eye. An 11,000 year old site in Turkey called Gobekli Tepe is right in the area in which the first urban civilizations emerged thousands of years later.  The site is marked by several spectacular 16-ton pillars of mysterious origin, but it also contains many huge vats that contain a residue of calcium oxalate, which is released when beer is made.  Near the vats is also a hilltop covered with the bones of prime cuts of gazelle meat.  It’s unknown how the Hunting and Gathering people of the time were able to shape and lift the pillars, but German Archaeological Institute researcher Jens Notroff thinks the secret to gathering so many people for one muscular purpose was the beer. “If you need someone to help you move, you buy them pizza and a couple of beers.”

Gobekli Tepe, the oldest monumental architecture ON EARTH, and probably the site of some really fun parties too.
Kerimbesler
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bringing people together for beer and barbeque was – and remains – a huge hit.  Although it’s still not conclusive, evidence is gathering that it was beer, not bread that inspired our ancient ancestors to domesticate grains.  Harvesting wild plants simply couldn’t provide enough grain.  So our ancestors planted wild grains and over time bred them into higher yielding barley and wheat. This may explain why the earliest known domesticated grain, called einkorn, comes from a site only a few dozen miles from Gobekli Tepe.  Although the theory is not conclusively proven, there is a strong argument that humans did not settle down in large urban communities to farm for food.  They settled down to farm grain for BEER! 

The Oxford Companion to Beer: Definition of The History of  Beer: https://beerandbrewing.com/dictionary/UqfrcsPoAI/

An Anthropologist Ponders the Question of the Origins of Civilization while Brewing an Ancient Sumerian Recipe: https://www.morebeer.com/articles/Brewing_Ancient_Beer

The Drunken Monkey Hypothesis and Gobekli Tepe  (Paywall): https://archive.nationalgeographic.com/national-geographic/2017-feb/flipbook/30/

Cities in the Clouds: The Future of Skyscraper Design

Morning, 2050.  You’re looking out over the megalopolis of Tokyo from your apartment a mile up in the sky.  The waves of Tokyo Bay far below ripple peacefully against bright green hexagonal plots of algae being grown for fuel.  You take a sip of your morning tea made with cloud-harvested water, and smile.  It’s going to be a beautiful day. 

At the moment, actually living the mile-high life in a gleaming tower above Tokyo is still science fiction, but everything in the above scenario is rooted in engineering fact.  Since the days of Ancient Rome, people have constructed multi-story buildings, but it was only in the last 150 years that the modern marvels we call skyscrapers became possible.  With the combination of easily available steel for the frames, or “skeletons” of skyscrapers, and safety elevators to lift people without risk, multistory buildings began to reach for the stars.  In 1931, the 102-story Empire State Building was a marvel of the world at 381 meters tall.  Incredible leaps and bounds in engineering and architecture mean that now the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa (pictured below), clocks in with 160 stories and an incredible 828 meter height.

Another building already in the works, the Jeddah Tower, is right behind the Burj Khalifa at 1,000 meters, but neither can match the awesome height and stunningly futuristic design of the Tokyo Sky Mile Tower, a 1,700 meter tower designed with stability and sustainability firmly in mind.  Located as it is in the “Ring of Fire,” a seismically active zone in the Pacific, Tokyo may not seem like the best place for an ultra-tall tower.  At only 44 meters above sea level, global sea level rise could also be a player in any future plans for Tokyo.  However, the nature of engineering is to find a way to make things work, and the Sky Mile Tower engineers came up with a stunning design that turns disadvantages into advantages, and makes the impossible possible.

In an awesome display of creativity and forward-thinking, engineers decided that the best place for Sky Mile Tower will be IN Tokyo Bay, where huge concrete pillars running through a man-made island will anchor the building deep in the bay.  Unshakable by waves, the resulting tower and its surrounding series of man-made islands could then act as a breaker for tsunamis, ship traffic, and even sea level rise in the bay.  Wind speeds in the sky will be tamed by the fact that the Tower is a series of seven aerodynamic hexagonal towers with spaces in between to channel wind.  Most impressively, the issue of pumping water to residents a mile up will be solved with the practice of “cloud harvesting,” a relatively low-tech practice in which water droplets from clouds are collected and condensed on mesh panels.  The building even includes a system to harvest, purify, and distribute water to the world’s tallest residents!  The Sky Mile Tower was proposed in 2015, and although at this time there are no official plans for construction, it represents the incredible future of urban engineering and planning.

Engineering is a branch of science that depends on creating and testing models and designs in a lab before they are executed in the real world.  Most of the amazing skyscrapers you see in the world today were once 3D models that were stress-tested, checked, and re-tested until they were perfect. Experimentation is key to great designs!  If you’d like to try your hand at building and testing a model, check out our “Build a Truss Bridge” video and create and stress-test your own bridge! 

Build a Truss Bridge Experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4_dEeCiYzg

The Proposal Paper on the Sky Mile Tower, by the Architects & Engineers themselves: https://global.ctbuh.org/resources/papers/download/2335-next-tokyo-2045-a-mile-high-tower-rooted-in-intersecting-ecologies.pdf

Up-close Views of the Tokyo Sky Mile Tower Design: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoFqbX19JLQ

More about the Future of Skyscraper Design:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTeaEU6hgCE

An open letter from our founder

Dear teachers, school and camp directors, and parents,

On behalf of all our High Touch High Tech scientists across the nation, and around the world, I would like to thank you all for boldly pursuing our science experiences for your students and children.

This has been a very challenging year for us all. Our passionate scientists will continue to inspire our children to become the next generation of scientists that will develop the lifesaving vaccines and medications that have made the end of this pandemic tangible.

The pandemic certainly changed how we engage with your students, driven by our desire to stimulate imagination and curiosity, we took our unique and inspiring programs and pivoted to deliver them as science kits to the students. Our scientist would then lead the science experience adventure by Zoom. While our fun scientists enjoyed the Zoom delivery of our programs, we are all anxious to work with students in person, and watch their faces light up with discovery. While this pivot is working well, we are all looking forward to bringing our hands-on science experiences back into the classroom.

As I have long said, our High Touch High Tech programs can be delivered anywhere learners are and can engage in exciting ways to learn. Because of this we can stimulate young minds, activate new curiosity, and nurture budding imaginations. This has been our approach for the last 29 years. We all have seen that following the science is bringing us out of this pandemic, and sparking curiosity among your students and future scientists assures us the world will continue to become a better place.

Scientifically yours,

Daniel “Dinosaur Dan” Shaw

Founder, High Touch High Tech

The scientist is motivated primarily by curiosity and a desire for truth.

The Epic Hidden History of Maraschino Cherries

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
International Cherry Pit Spitting Day
July 3rd!

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Here in the glory days of summer, one of the best things about an already stellar season is the abundance of fruit, especially the abundance of CHERRIES!  Enjoyed right across the world from The U.S. to Japan, this beloved fruit has a flavor that is welcome in almost any confection you can imagine, from ice cream to sweet liqueurs.  The finest cherries of the harvest sell from upscale Japanese fruit retailers for 350 dollars a box.  Cherryheads can even participate in the National Cherry Festival in Traverse, Michigan, which attracts half a million people a year, or test their skills at the International Cherry Pit-Spitting Contest, also in Michigan.  (The world record for a spit pit is 30.6 meters, by the way!)

Cherry Pit Spitting Contest in Germany

It is true that cherries are an iconic and beloved fruit, so much so that they have given rise to colloquial sayings such as “the cherry on top,” which makes the red cherry garnish on top of sweet treats a metaphor for the final flourish that perfects something.  But where did that famous bright red cherry on top come from?  The story of the Maraschino cherry that completes the world’s deserts, and makes its cocktails extra tasty, is actually an epic story of persistence and devotion that spans seven generations!  Since 1823, the Luxardo family of Italy have put their name on the world’s most highly regarded brand of Maraschino cherries, still lovingly produced by the clan from blossom to bottle.

If it sounds strange to you that the bright red (or green) Maraschino cherries available at the supermarket, which are known to be bathed in 20th century concoctions such as sulfur dioxide, high fructose corn syrup, red dye # 40, and potassium sorbate, are so highly regarded, you are thinking of the wrong Maraschino cherry.  Cordials and preserves made of the Marasca cherry had been popular in Europe for thousands of years, but it was Girolamo Luxardo and his wife Maria who perfected the first version that was sold widely as a brand in 1823.  The original Luxardo recipe that continues to the present day boasts that “No thickening agents of any type and no preservatives are used, and the dark red color is all natural.”  Cocktail and café culture around the world was just beginning to evolve in the 19th century, and the Luxardo company became the world’s pre-eminent cherry on top from that time forward.  Sadly, 4 of the 5 Luxardo heirs were killed in WWII bombings, and the sole survivor escaped to Northern Italy with one single Marasca cherry sapling to continue the brand.  As that one sapling was slowly growing into the new Luxardo orchards, however, the post-war ethos of “better living through chemistry” had intervened and the mass produced, dye-infused version that we now know as Maraschinos took hold around the world.  Originally invented in the 1920’s as a cheaper version of Luxardo Maraschinos, the bright red, sugar-impregnated Maraschinos commonly bought today are really only chemically enhanced knockoffs of a much healthier, and by all accounts much more delicious, original recipe.  For an interesting cherry’s-eye-view at how much the technological world has changed in 200 years, have a look at the videos below about how the two dueling Maraschinos are produced, preferably while enjoying a seasonal bowl of the fresh stuff (and maybe spitting a pit or two)!

If the idea of testing your skill at launching cherry pits
across the room sounds like a fun summertime challenge, look no further than our
Catapult at-home experiment! Check out the lesson plan below, grab your
supplies, and start experimenting with lift, force, gravity and more!

Catapult Lesson Plan: https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/Catapult_EOTD_May%206th.pdf

Sources:

How 350 dollar per box Japanese Cherries are Grown:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjWajrNcT0A

The National Cherry Festival in Traverse, MI:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-LhcQIbqts

The International Cherry Pit Spitting Contest:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrfOppxKTwc

The Creation of Luxardo Maraschinos:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFONeb7bNH4

How Conventional Maraschinos are made:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1brsg7h6gQ

Gourmet Mixology with Luxardo Cherries:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNSMVA4tTpU

Never Underestimate a Catfish

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
National Catfish Day
June 25th!

Image Source: Pixabay.com

When you hear the word “catfish” it may bring up different associations in your mind. For many of us, “catfish” refers to an internet scam where a person is lured in by a fake dating profile and then targeted for money.   If you are a Southerner, catfish refers to a delicious food served battered and deep fried, always with a side of French fries and a sweet tea.  When you look at how versatile and widespread actual Catfish, Siluriformes, are, it seems perfectly appropriate that there are so many associations attached to their name.  Sometimes underestimated as gross bottom feeders (they have been known to nibble on dead bodies) or a cheap trash fish, in reality, catfish boast a dinosaur-era lineage, a worldwide range, impressive adaptability, AND the biggest freshwater fish in the world, the Mekong Giant Catfish, Pangasianodon Gigas.  There is even a species that can “walk” on land.  Underestimate the humble catfish at your own peril, because not only are they tough, but they are everywhere, and they are BIG!  (And yes, even the biggest ones are said to be delicious.)

Of course, we at High Touch High Tech would NEVER condone eating a Mekong Giant Catfish, because they are critically endangered.  Catfish are known to get exceptionally large, with the Wels Catfish in Europe reaching 8 feet and the Piraiba of the Amazon reaching 7 feet.  However, the Mekong Catfish is considered King of All Catfish because it is the largest catfish in the world, with one caught in 2005 tipping the scales at 646 pounds and measuring 9 feet!  This incredible catch means that the Mekong Giant Catfish is the largest freshwater fish ever recorded. 

Although catfish species can be found in rivers, lakes,
marine environments, sometimes even on land, and are hugely popular with
aquarium keepers in homes all over the world, the Mekong Giant Catfish has
sadly not fared well in the last few decades. 
The Mekong Giant Catfish was once seen regularly in its home, the
massive Mekong River in Southeast Asia, but now scientists report they are
lucky to get a sighting once a year.  The
bounteous Mekong River supported these enormous fish easily in the past,
because the river itself, which flows through six nations in Asia, is spacious
and full of diverse fish and plant species. 
But the Mekong Catfish is a highly migratory species, and in recent
decades, dams and development along the river have especially affected its favored
spawning ground.  Fortunately, scientists
like Zeb Hogan are committed to tracking and understanding the exact habitat
needs of the Giant Mekong Catfish, and are working with locals to support and
protect the precious Mekong Catfish.   Check out Dr. Hogan’s efforts in the link
below and be sure to wish your local catfish a happy Catfish Day on June 25th!

If learning about unique aquatic species gets you excited, check
out our Sea Urchin Symmetry at-home experiment. Review the lesson linked below,
grab your supplies, and start exploring!

Sea Urchin Symmetry Lesson Plan: https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/EOTD_Sea_Urchin_Symmetry_Lesson.pdf

Sources:

Impressive Catfish Facts:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaCQ4ZAsAgc

The Biggest Catfish Ever Caught All Around the World:
https://largest.org/animals/catfish/

Dr. Hogan’s Conservation Efforts:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JvRyYyMoA8

Tracking the Spawn of Mekong Catfish:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIBv6yJcVKE

An Excellent Documentary on Life along the Mekong:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AqvJaHk-N4

National Hollerin’ Day!

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
National Hollerin’ Day
June 19th

Image Source: https://www.carolinaxroads.com/2020/01/spiveys-corner.html

OORAH!  If you instantly heard the distinctive sound of the US Marine battle cry in your head as you read that word, you know the power of a strong, powerful shout.  Gentle face-to-face spoken communication is a wonderful thing, but there’s definitely something to be said for a full-throated holler so loud that it leaves rolling echoes behind to prove its point.  People across times and cultures have woven the art of hollering into not only their fearsome military battle cries but into their day to day lives.  Prior to the advent of phones (and cups attached by strings), communicating long distances was a problem that all humans faced.  You might have heard of the Pony Express or Carrier Pigeon as examples of people’s ingenious solutions for long distance communication, but for sheer usefulness, how about the good ol’ fashioned Southern-style holler?

On the surface, giving a good holler seems like something mindless, but the “Hollerin’ Capital of the World” in Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina would like to assure you it’s not. As one champion hollerer of the “National Hollerin’ Contest,” once held annually in Spivey’s Corner, explains, a holler is a controlled sound that rural people used to communicate before the era of phones.  Thought to have originated in West Africa and then brought over by enslaved people, Southern-style hollers vary between individuals, but they are designed as a pattern of sounds that send a distinct message.  The best hollers have a rhythm and modulation that creates an echo and can be heard up to a mile away!

In addition, there are four basic categories of holler.  There are functional hollers designed for
calling up and down between a house and a field to ask for things like water or
food.  There are hollers designed to pass
a certain message, such as to announce oneself on a neighbor’s land.  An especially important type is the distress
holler, to be used only in case of emergency or if someone finds themselves
lost.  Last, there is the expressive
holler, which gives voice to the hollerer’s particular feelings at the moment.  If you’re in a place where a few hollers here
and there won’t disturb anybody, why not celebrate National Hollerin’ Day with
an expressive holler of your own?  You
might be surprised how far your voice can carry!

If you are feeling the “call” to holler, then we invite you
to try our Paper Cup & String Phone at-home experiment. See if your holler
will carry all the way to the other end of the string! Learn about vibrations
and how sounds carry! Grab your supplies & check out the lesson plan linked
below:

Lesson Plan:
https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/Paper-Cup-String-REV-7-20-2020.pdf

Sources:

The Story of Hollerin’ and the National Hollerin’ Contest in Spivey’s Corner: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/how-to-win-a-hollerin-contest

Some Champions of Hollerin’ explain the Art:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3r0ThUN2YKs

Old Timer Leonard Emanuel tells the story of Hollerin’ in his Community and provides some expressive examples:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvY4i4TeHiQ

Everybody Loves Flip-Flops

Join High Touch High Tech in Celebrating
National Flip-Flop Day
June 11th!

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Modern-day fashionistas may disparage flip-flops, and some doctors warn against wearing them constantly.  But aside from a few objections, the archaeological and historical record both testify to the fact that humans the world over have been rocking flip-flops and sandals, flip-flops’ close relatives, since before civilization even began.  The basic design of flip-flops and sandals, a sole covering held on to the foot with a rope or strap, is much older than the earliest known closed-toe leather shoes.  The oldest sandals on earth were found in Fort Rock, Oregon in the 1930’s.  Made of woven sagebrush ropes, the oldest Fort Rock Sandals date from about 13,000 years ago!

Another culture that had no problem with the flip-flop as fashion was the Ancient Egyptians, whose preferred style was anchored between the first and second toe just as modern people wear today.  Many Ancient Egyptian sandals were made of humble woven papyrus, or more upmarket leather, but they also could be covered in gold and gems depending on the status of the wearer.  It is said that the Pharaoh of Egypt even had a servant who did nothing but carry his sandals until needed.  The Ancient Greeks were huge fans of the sandal, and so were the Romans, although their designs often involved more straps and foot coverage than the minimalistic flip flop design that Ancient Egyptians and present-day people appreciate. 

With such a wealth of ancient footwear to draw from, which design and time period gave us the flip flop we use today?  Look no further than Japan.  Japanese traditional footwear has long been adapted towards the easy-on, easy-off design people prize in contemporary flip- flops.  Japanese homes often had floors covered in delicate reed tatami mats that could be easily damaged by shoes, and so an abundance of flip-flop-like designs emerged, including the geta and the zori.  After WW2, Japan’s decimated economy still held a large reserve of rubber from the Southeast Asian nations that Japan had attempted to colonize during the war.  Japanese manufacturing began to build back by using the rubber to create mass-produced zori, and thus the flip-flop as we know it was born.  Originally marketed as “Jandals,” a combination of “Japan” and “Sandals,” as the shoes gained popularity in the West, some time in the 1960’s they came to be called “flip-flops” for the ubiquitous sound they make when they strike the heel. 

Image Source: Pixabay.com

So go ahead and rock your flip-flops for National Flip-Flop
Day this June 11th!  If anyone
criticizes your toes as they catch the breeze, just remind them that flip-flops
are one of the oldest human designs still in wide use. It is said that a great
design is timeless, and in the case of flip-flops, that is definitely true!

So, grab your flip-flops and head to the beach for this week’s at-home experiment! Put your toes in the sand as you make sand observations and seashell imprints! Check out our lesson plan, collect your materials and investigate cool coastal science…all while sporting your favorite flip-flops!

Lesson Plan: https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/EOTD_Sand_Seashells_Lesson.pdf

Sources:

The Great Flip-Flop Fashion Debate:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijEmTr9jdtM

The Fort Rock Sandals:
https://pages.uoregon.edu/connolly/FRsandals.htm

Worldwide use of Sandals through Cultures and Times: http://historyofsandals.blogspot.com/2010/10/egyptian-sandals_22.html

Introduction to Japanese Traditional Footwear:
https://www.japan-zone.com/culture/footwear.shtml

The Japanese Zori Industry and the Modern Flip-flop:
https://www.heddels.com/2018/04/history-flip-flop/

Soaring Science of the Hot Air Balloon!

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

Image Source: Pixabay.com

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
1783, AT VERSAILLES

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.

Image Source: Pixabay.com

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.

Image Source: Pixabay.com

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! 

RESOURCES:

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.