Sharks Never Get Toothaches!

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
National Toothache Day
February 9, 2021!

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Far back into some of the most ancient human remains ever found, archaeologists see a constant human universal: toothaches!  Whether broken, lost, ground down completely, or abscessed so severely they impact the bone of the jaw, humankind has suffered with tooth pain since time out of mind.  Before the advent of modern scientific dentistry, humans experimented endlessly to find cures for tooth pain. Mummies show that the Ancient Egyptians made attempts to drill loose teeth and wire them into place.  Across cultures and times there are also numerous versions of false teeth, such as George Washington’s, which were not made of wood but in fact were made from rhinoceros ivory and the teeth of his slaves.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
George Washington’s Teeth

If thinking about the history of tooth pain makes you cringe, perhaps it will help to know that humankind’s struggle with our teeth is a result of only one of nature’s many designs.  At least some other beings we share this planet with have been much more fortunate!  Imagine you chipped a tooth.  Instead of lengthy visits and painful treatments, imagine the injured tooth just pops out and another one takes its place within 24 hours.  What lucky being experiences this design?  None other than the ruler of the oceans, the SHARK!

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The word shark is practically synonymous in our minds with teeth, or if you like, “Jaws.”  On top of their already incredible evolutionary assets such as their keen sense of smell and sixth sense for the invisible electricity of living things, an average shark can produce an unlimited supply of perfect teeth for as long as it lives.  Their jaws have a design much like a conveyor belt, with rows of teeth in waiting for the moment that a frontline “working tooth” becomes damaged.  The bull shark, widely thought to be the deadliest shark to humans because of its aggression and ability to adapt to a wide range of marine environments, has fifty rows of teeth-in-waiting, one on top of the other, tucked into its jaw.

Imagine if sharks suffered tooth problems like humans do.  For a creature that has no hands or feet, and no other way of grabbing prey at all, even one injured tooth would spell disaster.  Sharks’ jaws produce an estimate of 20,000 to 50,000 teeth in an average lifetime.  This means that fossilized shark teeth are the most abundant fossil on earth, as the many iterations of ancient sharks constantly improved upon their toothy design.  It’s thought that the evolutionary design of sharks’ teeth began back in the Devonian period 416 million years ago, when ancestral sharks may have eaten primarily plants.  With a boom in ocean life in the Cenozoic period 60 million years ago, sharks began to adapt to new sources of food, and with new food came the teeth that we associate with sharks today.  Sharks have been continuously evolving longer than almost any other animal on earth, and the constant, trouble-free perfection of their teeth is just another example of how long they have been evolving to fit their niche as the ocean’s top predator.  Hominids like us have only been around for 7 million years at most, and although dropping our baby teeth for our adult teeth is an amazing evolutionary advantage in itself, we have several million years to go as a species before we can drop our dental insurance completely!

If the stabbing pain of a toothache makes you feel like stabbing something, we’ve got the at-home science experiment for you! Check out our bag stab experiment and work out that discomfort in a FUN and productive way! See link below for supply list and lesson plan!
https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/Bag%20Stab_EOTD_May%2011th.pdf

Sources:

The hidden history of dentistry:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Y5XpiCn3Q4

George Washington’s false teeth:
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/george-washington-didnt-have-wooden-teeth-they-were-ivory-180953273/

How and why sharks grow an unlimited number of teeth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgXB3okWeGg

The evolution of shark teeth:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GC85qSIGSWw

Little Piece Picker-Uppers

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
National Chopsticks Day
February 6, 2021!

Image Source: Pixabay.com

It is said that you can neatly divide the world population by choice of eating utensil.  About one third of the world population eats with knife and fork.  Another third of the world  eats with their hands.  The other third uses chopsticks at mealtime.  For those of us in the knife and fork part of the world, eating with chopsticks may be especially challenging, even counterintuitive.  Why even bother with the delicate, tweezer-like balance required to eat with chopsticks?  Don’t be afraid of a cramped hand or dropped rice everywhere — learning to eat with chopsticks means you are joining in one of the oldest continuous culinary, cultural, and even technological legacies in the world.  Plus, folks on the chopstick side of the world say that East Asian food eaten with knife and fork just does not taste as good!

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Some of the oldest chopsticks ever found are around 3300 years old.  Chopsticks’ origins in Ancient China represent an innovative technological solution to environmental challenges.  They have proven to be such an innovative solution that their simple design has endured without modification for millennia, much unlike the fork, which is relatively recent, and in its oldest form was two long prongs rather than the multiple prongs commonly in use today.  One thing most cultures seem to agree on is the spoon, and it is known that spoons were in use in very ancient China even before chopsticks were invented.

Five thousand years ago, the small population of Ancient China depended on millet, not rice, and millet was often served as a gruel meant for a spoon.  But, as the population grew, people’s relationship to the environment and the food it provided also began to change.  More people were able to grow and harvest more types of food, but also began deforesting already sparse parts of the Ancient Chinese heartland.  In response to a lack of fuel, Chinese food evolved to focus on small, chopped-up pieces that could be cooked quickly, with a minimum of fuel waste.  Most of the Chinese food enjoyed today, such as stir-fry, still follows this “bite-size” pattern, as opposed to the more “lumpen” style of knife and fork food, such as steak and a baked potato. 

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Chopsticks, originally employed as cooking tools and plucked straight off a tree, became the perfect fit for Chinese food as it evolved.  Easily made of wood, bone, or even metal, chopsticks were in wide use among the people of East Asia before most people in the knife and fork world could afford the luxury of a fork.  Seen in the context of history, chopsticks are not counterintuitive at all.  In fact, they are a perfect example of a cultural adaptation to a difficult environmental challenge, as are so many of humanity’s best inventions.  The tweezer-like action of chopsticks makes them perfect for picking up even very small, precise amounts of food.  To understand the simple, enduring, form-follows-function perfection of this technology, all you have to do is look at the name: in the world outside of East Asia, they are known as chopsticks, but in Chinese they are called
“筷子“ which means, roughly “little piece picker-uppers!”

In the Western World, using chopsticks on a good day is challenging
enough! Imagine trying to use chopsticks without your thumbs! If you want to
test your skills managing chopsticks or completing other daily tasks without
your thumbs, try our at-home experiment, All Thumbs! Find lesson plan,
supplies, and tutorial video here:

All Thumbs
Lesson:
https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/If_Animals_Had_Thumbs.pdf
Video Tutorial:
https://youtu.be/hrDpVGbRZUY

Sources:

How to eat with Chopsticks:

How NOT to use Chopsticks:

An awesome two-part documentary on the deep cultural meaning of chopsticks in the East Asian world:
http://www.arirang.com/Tv2/TVCommon_NoStaff_Archive.asp?PROG_CODE=TVCR0478&MENU_CODE=100980&view_seq=31291&Page=1&sys_lang=Eng

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.

As
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:
https://youtu.be/9zMbsDzNT90
https://youtu.be/TFEEmmYaqfA
https://youtu.be/xKyXMb3tcwM

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: https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/roaring_cup.pdf
Tutorial Video: https://youtu.be/N4IJ3-B6ySE

Harmonica
Lesson Plan: https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/Harmonica-REV-6-28-2018.pdf
Tutorial Video: https://youtu.be/drRSYw-p5fo

Sources:

http://www.edenkazoo.com/history.php
https://www.nationalkazooday.com/facts.html
https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/kazoo-museum

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

Image Source: Pixabay.com

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.

Image Source: Pixabay.com

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.

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Have
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!

Back
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

This
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!

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Magnetic Field Lines

Between
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.

A
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.

Weak
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.

This
“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.

If
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.

If
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

To
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
ago.

Scientists
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.

The
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!

What
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.

From
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.

Another
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: https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/compass.pdf

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

Should old acquaintance be forgot?

Image Source: Pixabay.com

It
is almost New Year’s eve! Although most people are happy to be saying goodbye
to the year 2020, it has certainly been a year to remember! Of course, when we
talk about New Year’s eve, the words of Auld Lang Syne will surely come up! Why
is that? What’s the song about?

This
song’s melody is synonymous with the new year (and the theme of change) in the
English-speaking world, despite nearly incomprehensible words. The problem is
that the text on which the song is based is not in English at all — it’s
18th-century Scots, a similar but distinct language responsible for lyrics in
the song such as “We twa hae run about the braes / and pou’d the gowans
fine” that are utterly incomprehensible to Americans.

But
the story of how an 18th-century Scottish ballad became
synonymous with the new year is tangled, involving both Calvinist theology’s
traditional aversion to Christmas and the uniquely central role that watching
television plays in American New Year’s celebrations. Bridging the gap is a
once-famous, now-forgotten Canadian big band leader who for decades defined New
Year’s Eve and transformed a Scottish folk custom into a global phenomenon.

“Should
old acquaintance be forgot?” is a rhetorical question the song asks?

The
answer is that it’s a rhetorical question. The song is asking whether old
friends should be forgotten, as a way of stating that obviously one should not
forget one’s old friends. The version of the song we sing today is based on
a poem published by Robert Burns, which he attributed to “an old
man’s singing,” noting that it was a traditional Scottish song. 

So,
remember to not forget about your old friends! And on that note, let’s dive deeper
into the cultural history of New Years.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Assarhadon – Babylon

The
earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new
year’s arrival date back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon.
For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal
equinox—the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and
darkness—heralded the start of a new year. In 45 B.C., New Year’s Day is
celebrated on January 1 for the first time in history as the Julian calendar
takes effect.

Soon
after becoming Roman dictator, Julius Caesar decided that the traditional
Roman calendar was in dire need of reform. Introduced around the seventh
century B.C., the Roman calendar attempted to follow the lunar cycle but
frequently fell out of phase with the seasons and had to be corrected. In addition,
the college of priests, the Roman body charged with overseeing the calendar,
often abused its authority by adding days to extend political terms or
interfere with elections.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Chinese New Year

One
of the oldest traditions still celebrated today is Chinese New Year, which is
believed to have originated over 3,000 years ago during the Shang Dynasty. The
holiday began as a way of celebrating the new beginnings of the spring planting
season, but it later became entangled with myth and legend. According to one
popular tale, there was once a bloodthirsty creature called Nian—now the
Chinese word for “year”—that preyed on villages every New Year. To frighten the
hungry beast, the villagers took to decorating their homes with red trimmings,
burning bamboo, and making loud noises. The ruse worked, and the bright colors
and lights associated with scaring off Nian eventually became integrated into
the celebration.

Festivities
traditionally last 15 days and tend to center on the home and the family.
People clean their houses to rid them of bad luck, and some repay old debts as
a way of settling the previous year’s affairs. To encourage an auspicious start
to the year they also decorate their doors with paper scrolls and gather with
relatives for a feast. Following the invention of gunpowder in the 10th
century, the Chinese were also the first to ring in the New Year with
fireworks. Since Chinese New Year is still based on a lunar calendar that dates
to the second millennium BC, the holiday typically falls in late January or
early February on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Each year is
associated with one of 12 zodiacal animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon,
snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Modern
celebrations of the Lunar New Year include the tradition of giving the
gift of a bright, beautiful red envelope (known as hóngbāo) to your
friends and family. These envelopes are filled with money – and symbolize good
wishes, luck, and prosperity for the new year ahead.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Nowruz Table

In
Iran and other parts of the Middle East and Asia, the roots of Nowruz (or “New
Day”) reach far back into antiquity. Often called the “Persian New Year,” this
13-day spring festival falls on or around the vernal equinox in March and is
believed to have originated in modern day Iran as part of the Zoroastrian
religion. Official records of Nowruz did not appear until the 2nd century, but
most historians believe its celebration dates back as far as the 6th century
B.C. and the rule of the Achaemenid Empire. Unlike many other ancient Persian
festivals, Nowruz persisted as an important holiday even after Iran’s conquest
by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. and the rise of Islamic rule in the 7th
century A.D.

Ancient
observances of Nowruz focused on the rebirth that accompanied the return of
spring. Traditions included feasts, exchanging presents with family members and
neighbors, lighting bonfires, dyeing eggs, and sprinkling water to symbolize
creation. One unique ritual that arose around the 10th century involved
electing a “Nowruzian Ruler”: a commoner who would pretend to be king for
several days before being “dethroned” near the end of the festival. Nowruz has
evolved considerably over time, but many of its ancient traditions—particularly
the use of bonfires and colored eggs—remain a part of the modern holiday, which
is observed by an estimated 300 million people each year.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Hatshepsut

In
the same region, ancient Egyptian culture was closely tied to the Nile River,
and it appears their New Year corresponded with its annual flood. According the
Roman writer Censorinus, the Egyptian New Year was predicted when Sirius—the
brightest star in the night sky—first became visible after a 70-day absence.
Better known as a heliacal rising, this phenomenon typically occurred in
mid-July just before the annual inundation of the Nile River, which helped
ensure that farmlands remained fertile for the coming year. Egyptians
celebrated this new beginning with a festival known as Wepet Renpet, which
means “opening of the year.” The New Year was a time of rebirth and
rejuvenation, and it was honored with feasts and special religious rites.

Not
unlike many people today, the Egyptians may have also used this as an excuse
for getting a bit tipsy. Recent discoveries at the Temple of Mut show that
during the reign of Hatshepsut the first month of the year played host to a
“Festival of Drunkenness.” This massive party was tied to the myth of Sekhmet,
a war goddess who had planned to kill all of humanity until the sun god Ra
tricked her into drinking herself unconscious. In honor of mankind’s salvation,
the Egyptians would celebrate with music, revelry, and—perhaps most important
of all—copious amounts of beer.

As
you look toward 2021, no matter how you choose to celebrate, we at High Touch
High Tech – Science Made Fun, wish each one of you a safe, happy, and joyous
New Year!

And if
you’d like to kick off the new year with your very own fireworks, try out our
at-home experiment, “Exploding Colors”!

Find a list of what you need and instructions here: https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/Exploding_Colors.pdf

You can
also watch our “How To” video here:
https://youtu.be/QSBsGSYUKLY

Soil Science is a dirty business!

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
World Soil Day
December 5th, 2020

Image Source: Pixabay.com

What kind
of science is in soil? What is soil? So many questions…

Soil is a
material composed of five ingredients — minerals, organic plant matter,
living organisms, gas, and water. Are their soil scientists? Of
course! 

What do
soil scientists do? A soil scientist is a person who is
qualified to evaluate and interpret soils and soil-related
data for the purpose of understanding soil resources as they
contribute to not only agricultural production, but as they affect
environmental quality and as they are managed for protection of human health
and the environment. WOW, soil scientists definitely play a key role in
protecting our health and environment.

It seems
to me that Soil is pretty easy to ignore. We might notice it when gardening or
playing outdoors. But even when we forget about it, soil is always there,
everywhere!

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Soil microbes under a microscope

Most of what we see are mineral particles that we recognize as sand, silt, or clay. There is also plenty of water and air. But soil is also alive. It contains countless fungi and microbes. They help recycle dead and decaying matter by breaking down the remains of plants, animals, and other organisms. What if we could put on really cool goggles to see inside the soil, we would see an incredible microscopic world of fungi and bacteria? We need to talk about the bacteria in soil because they perform an incredible function. These bacteria are said to be symbiotic and are real helpers to the plants. These bacteria can convert nitrogen to ammonia, which the plants utilize for their development.  

Image Source: Pixabay.com

While soil science is fascinating, why are we talking about it now? Because World Soil Day is December 5, 2020. How do we celebrate World Soil Day, you might ask? The motto for World Soil Day is Keep soil alive and protect soil biodiversity! Plants nurture a whole world of creatures in the soil, that in return feed and protect the plants. This diverse community of living organisms keeps the soil healthy and fertile. This vast world constitutes soil biodiversity and determines the main biogeochemical processes that make life possible on Earth.

Image Source: Pixabay.com

It turns
out soil is a living resource, home to more than 25% of our planet’s
biodiversity. Interestingly, up to 90% of living organisms live or spend part
of their lifecycle in soils.

Next time
you take a break and go outside, or maybe spend a few minutes in your backyard,
reach down and take a good look at the soil. If you have a magnifying glass,
bring it outside with you. When you look at the soil use your imagination and
think about how many microorganisms there are in the soil, and how remarkably
busy they all are!

One way to
celebrate World Soil Day is to provide your soil with rich nutrients like those
found in compost! Check out our at-home science experiment, Compost in a Cup!
Grab your supplies & celebrate soil!

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

Video: https://youtu.be/ZNM3nALYU_A

Mission to Mars

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
Red Planet Day
November 28th!

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Red Planet – Mars

Who’s ready to go on a mission to Mars? If you are like me, you have already been on a mission to Mars, thanks to the classic ride at Disney World. Mission to Mars was an attraction located in Tomorrowland at Disneyland and at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. I remember being on this ride as a child in the 1970’s. As you entered Mission to Mars, you were greeted first with a control room, featuring then cutting-edge animatronic figures that talked about what the first crewed mission to Mars would be like. While footage ran on screens, a robotic scientist talked about things like “the way crystals form in zero-G.” After that you were ushered into a circular theater that looked a lot like the inside of a modern airplane. Side screens showed the diagnostics associated with the trip, including how far away you were from earth and how close you were to the red planet. Narration would play about the nature of the voyage, with phrases like “Mars acquisition velocity” and “hyperspace penetration commencing”. Dangers like meteors and black holes were detected and barely avoided. There were also references to how this kind of space travel was “routine” but back in the 1970’s and 1980’s seemed like science fiction.

Let’s fast forward to 2020!

Image Source: Pixabay.com
SpaceX Space Craft

The SpaceX Mars & Beyond program has
a robust plan to facilitate the eventual colonization of Mars. Is this
even a real possibility?

It took billions of years for Earth to
become a hospitable planet for humans and I think you would agree we’ve been
very comfortable living on earth. So why travel to Mars? Because it’s the red
planet in our night sky! Because it’s there! To paraphrase President John F.
Kennedy, we want to go to Mars, not because it is easy, but because it is hard!

The program includes fully reusable
launch vehicles, human rated space craft, on orbit propellant tankers, raid
turnaround, launch and landing mounts, and local production of rocket fuel on
Mars via in situ resource utilization (ISRU). SpaceX and Elon Musk have named
2024 as their goal for an un-crewed mission, with a crewed mission to follow
later.

A key element of the program is the SpaceX
starship, a fully reusable super heavy lift launch vehicle under development
since 2018. To achieve a large payload, the spacecraft would first enter Earth’s
orbit after launch, where it is expected to be refueled before it departs to
Mars. After landing on Mars, the spacecraft would be loaded with locally
produced propellants to return to Earth. The expected payload for the Starship
launch vehicle is between 100–150 tonnes (220,000–330,000 lbs.).  

SpaceX intends to concentrate its
resources on the transportation part of the Mars colonization project,
including the design of a plant based propellant utilizing the Sabatier
process that will be deployed on Mars to synthesize methane and
liquid oxygen as rocket propellants from the local supply of atmospheric
carbon dioxide and ground-accessible water & ice. Sound like
science fiction?

It’s an ambitious plan! Any successful
colonization would ultimately require involvement from many more economic
participants, whether individuals, companies, or governments—to facilitate the
growth of the human presence on Mars.

Here are some compelling reasons why this
plan is a good idea:

1. Enhanced national prestige, national
security, and economic vitality

2. Technological leadership and the development
of new technologies for non-space applications

3. New scientific discoveries not obtainable
from robotic missions to Mars

4. To inspire both the American public and the
next generation of scientist, technologist, engineer, and mathematician (STEM)

Some have suggested other reasons for colonizing
the Red Planet that are more catastrophic in nature, including Mars as a safe
haven for the survival of the human species and as a possible solution to the
exponential population explosion on our planet.

The trip will
take about nine months each way with a stay time on the surface of Mars of
several hundred days. The long length of the mission will provide an excellent
opportunity to engage the public and inspire students to pursue STEM-related
professions, products, and industries. We last witnessed a significant increase
in students studying STEM following the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957.

Why Mars? Scientists
think that early Mars was more hospitable and more Earth-like than present-day
Mars. Early Mars most probably possessed an atmosphere considerably denser than
its present-day atmosphere. The surface of present-day Mars is devoid of liquid
water. However, photographs of Mars from orbit and from the surface suggest
that early in its history Mars possessed abundant and widespread surface liquid
water in the form of lakes, rivers, and even planetary-scale oceans.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Astronaut Exploring Mars

Why humans? Humans have unique capabilities for
performing scientific measurements, observations, and sample collecting. The attributes
needed for exploration and scientific discovery include intelligence,
adaptability, agility, dexterity, cognition, patience, and problem solving in
real-time. We possess the abilities to adapt to new and unexpected situations
in new and strange environments. With state-of-the-art scientific equipment and
instrumentation brought from Earth, the increased laboratory ability on Mars would
allow for dramatically more scientific return. Exploration of Mars would be
performed as a synergistic partnership between humans and robotic probes where
probes could traverse great distances/terrain too risky for human exploration.

However, the most exciting role for the human explorer/scientist is just beginning as we start the greatest adventure in human history, the human exploration of the Solar System starting with the Red Planet.

At Home Experiment:

The surface of present-day Mars is devoid of liquid
water. But if humans were to colonize the planet, water would be critical. Much
of the fresh water on Earth is contained in aquifers. Aquifers are layers of
soil, gravel, sand, and rock beneath the Earth’s crust. The water in aquifers
has been there for thousands of years. Check out our at-home experiment and
make your very own water aquifer – you never know, it may come in handy if you
ever find yourself on Mars!
https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/WaterAquifer.pdf

Gemstones & Crystals Galore

They grow, but they’re not alive. For centuries they’ve been
used in witchcraft and wizardry, yet they are also so integral to science that
they have been the key to revealing the molecular makeup of all of life!  What are these marvelous, ancient, modern,
magical, scientific treasures?! 

We’re talking about those magnificent minerals, GEMSTONES!  

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Even in our “jaded” modern world, holding a handful of beautiful, multicolored, sparkling gems is a pleasure that is unparalleled.  When you look at the gorgeous variety of colors and shapes of gemstones, it’s easy to see why every ancient culture on earth revered them for their beauty and saw mysterious magical powers within.  Even though humans and  gemstones have a long and storied history together, that is only a small part of why gemstones are truly one of nature’s most incredible creations.  Far beyond their visual appeal, they are amazing right down to a molecular level and have actually been the key to some of the most momentous discoveries in the history of science!

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Snowflake Crystal

The scientific study of the structure of gems and crystals is called crystallography.  Humans have been trying to understand the intriguingly standard patterns of crystal shapes since at least ancient Greece, when they theorized that crystal gemstones were water that had frozen and could not go back to its liquid state.  Their word for it, krystallos, gives us our word today.  For centuries, gemstones did not reveal the mysteries of their symmetrical, regular shapes easily.  The great Johannes Kepler, fascinated by a single snowflake on his coat, pondered their symmetry in the 16th century.  Soon after, Danish crystallographer Neils Stensen discovered The Law of Constancy of Angles, proving that although crystals appear in a great variety of shapes and sizes, specific types of crystals always grow in the same angles.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Pyrite

The stage was set for Auguste Bravais, the father of modern crystallography, who discovered that the molecular structure of crystals were arranged in perfectly uniform “lattices,” a pattern in which any point in the structure is perfectly equidistant from the point nearest to it.  Bravais discovered there were only a few possible configurations of points that can make up the orderly arrangement of molecules in a crystal.   Bravais’ work categorized what is known as the “seven crystal systems:” cubic, trigonal, hexagonal, tetragonal, orthorhombic, triclinic, and monoclinic.   These are the seven shapes a crystal can make on a molecular level, and thus, repeats in its ultimate shape.  Have you ever seen pyrite in a cube, or quartz in a point?  In a cubic crystal-like pyrite, the molecules themselves form tiny repeating cubes which then create the amazingly regular, square shape of the crystal.  Quartz is only ever hexagonal or trigonal, giving it its characteristic point.  Once you are familiar with the seven crystal systems, the beauty of natural gems becomes even more incredible for their regularity and their symmetry.  The symmetrical perfection of crystal designs over millions of years, varying geological conditions, across all of earth and even space, is something truly rare and surprising in the natural world.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Blue Tanzanite

Although all crystals across the world, from the famous diamond to the ultra-rare fingerite, can grow in remarkably uniform patterns, what makes all crystal gemstones different is their interaction with the conditions in their particular environment.  Crystals usually form out of magma, but it is the trace elements in magma, often dissolved in groundwater, that dictate the colors and shapes of a crystal.  Pressure and temperature also play a role in creating these natural works of art.  For example, an emerald and a ruby both get their color from the trace element Chromium, but the difference is time and pressure.  One of the most rare and costly gems on earth, Blue Tanzanite, comes from a certain mixture of pressure, temperature and the element vanadium that is found only in the East African Rift Valley of Tanzania.  Whereas quartz, the most common crystal on earth, is created when silicon and oxygen, both very common elements, bond and grow in a tetragonal shape.  A crystal can take only weeks to grow and a million years to come to the earth’s surface; when it emerges, it is a perfect snapshot of the complex geological processes around it.

Image Source: Adobe Stock Photo
Crystalline Molecular Structure

Sci-Fi author Arthur C. Clarke said: Any sufficiently
advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Gemstones/crystals are
one of those places where science and magic meet.  Crystals have been used in healing magic
since humans lived in caves.  In terms of
importance to modern science, crystalline molecular structures have given us
the keys to understand nothing less than the makeup of life itself!  The science of X-ray Crystallography is a relatively
recent discipline.  In 1912 scientists
discovered that if they projected X-rays through a humble crystal of salt, they
could see the molecular structure of the salt crystal as a 2-D projection.  They then learned to crystallize non-mineral
substances, and construct 3-D models of the projection they saw.  Because of X-ray crystallography we have been
able to see, understand, and analyze:

  • The structure of DNA
  • Numerous pharmaceutical compounds, beginning
    with Penicillin
  • Enzymes
  • Hormones
  • Hemoglobin and Myoglobin
  • Vitamins
  • Viruses such as HIV and Covid-19
  • The makeup of the surface of Mars (Mars Rover
    has a built in X-ray crystallography unit!)
Image Source: Pixabay.com
DNA

In fact, the Nobel Chemistry 2020 winners, Dr. Charpentier
and Dr. Doudna, would never have been able to do such close work on DNA without
X-ray Crystallography. Even 2020 Nobel Prize winner Roger Penrose is an avid
fan of crystal structures and took inspiration from them to revolutionize our
understanding of space itself. 

If you want to collect and examine some of these incredibly
meaningful minerals for yourself, where can you start?  There are over 3,000 minerals known to
science, from the famous diamond to the rarest in the world, Fingerite.  Precious or semiprecious?  Local stones or exotic stones from around the
world?  Which of the Seven Crystal
Systems is your favorite? Which mix of minerals makes the most appealing color?

For some up-close views of fine gems and minerals:

The rarest gems & minerals in the world
An introduction to how crystals form and grow
A brief history of pre X-Ray crystallography
For more about the Seven Crystal Systems and Crystal Molecular Structures
An in-depth explanation of the mathematics and structure of Crystal Lattices
An selection of high-quality short videos about X Ray Crystallography, including its history, major discoveries, and practice today, plus a talk by Roger Penrose

Bang in a Bag

Image credit: little bins for little hands

A chemical reaction is a process in which one or more chemicals
(or things) combine to make something new. The ‘things’ or chemicals that we
started with are called Reactants and the new ‘thing’ that is made are called
Products. It is called a chemical reaction since:

  1. It is accompanied by a rearrangement of the
    atoms in the reactants to form different chemical matter. The product formed is
    a new entity and is chemically different from the starting reactants.
  2. It is usually irreversible: this means that in
    most cases, I cannot get back what I started with.
  3. A chemical reaction is usually accompanied by
    a color change, smell, heat or light or release of a gas.

An example
of chemical reactions is the burning of wood in the presence of oxygen to
produce ash, water vapor and carbon dioxide.

A Chemical reaction or change is different from a physical change.

A physical change usually involves only a change of state: from
solid to liquid, liquid to gas or gas to water. A physical change does not
involve a change in the chemical entity of the reactant. The products will have
different physical properties than the reactants (such as state of matter,
texture, shape), but the chemical structure remains exactly the same as the
reactants. Therefore, a physical change is usually reversible.

Image source: Pixabay.com

An example
of a physical change is the change of states of water. Liquid water freezes to
become ice, and when heated turns to water vapor or steam. But in all three
states, it is still chemically identical: H2O, which is made of two
atoms of Hydrogen and one atom of Oxygen. So, change of states of matter is not
a chemical, but a physical change.

In the Bang
in a Bag chemical reaction you just observed, acidic vinegar (chemically acetic
acid) reacts with basic baking soda (chemically sodium bicarbonate) to form an
entirely new substance called sodium acetate, carbon dioxide (the gas produced)
and water. Once the reaction is complete, you cannot get back the vinegar and
baking soda. The release of carbon dioxide caused the sound and the bubbling
you observed during the chemical reaction.

Join our HTHT @ Home Science Experiment and make your own Bang in a Bag:
https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/Bang%20in%20a%20Bag_EOTD_May%2012th.pdf

MEDIEVAL ENGINEERS: THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE CATAPULT

Image source: Pixabay.com

A
catapult is a lever, a stick or beam, propped up by a fulcrum, the pivot point.
The catapult magnifies your force to throw an object. So, you do not need as big
of a force to propel a large object, but the larger the force, the farther it
goes. In ancient times, catapults were used to throw heavy rocks.

Levers
and fulcrums can be used to pick up heavy things like rocks and building
materials. Have you ever used a see-saw? That’s a lever and fulcrum! See if you
can point out which part of your catapult is the lever, and which is the
fulcrum? The craft stick with the spoon is the lever and the stack of other
craft sticks is the fulcrum. The spoon beam pivots around the stack to generate
the force to launch the load. When you press down on the spoon, it pulls up on
the rubber band on the opposite end—this is its potential energy. When the
spoon is released, it pulls back up on the rubber band and the pom pom goes flying!
The potential energy is converted into energy of motion- kinetic energy.
Gravity also does its part as it pulls the object back down to the ground.

Image source: Pixabay.com

Take
it Further:

Try
launching a bouncy ball with your catapult. Compare it with the pom pom. How far
or high did it travel? Did it go as high or far as the catapult?

The
catapult also demonstrates Newton’s 3 Laws of motion:

An object at rest stays at rest until a force is applied, and an object will stay in motion until something creates an imbalance in the motion. (First Law) The acceleration produced when a force is applied depends on the mass of the object. (F = Ma; Second Law) Every action causes an equal and opposite reaction. (Third Law)

The
pom pom will remain at rest until a force acts on it (the release of the spoon
and/or gravity) – First Law

The
bouncy ball will not travel as high or far as the pom pom as the bouncy ball
has more mass than the pom pom and will require a larger force to travel the
same distance and speed as the pom pom – Second Law (Force = Mass X
Acceleration)

When
the spoon is pushed down, the load (pom pom or bouncy ball) travels upward- in
the opposite direction equal to the force applied on it. (Third Law of
Action-Reaction)

A catapult is a simple machine that has been around for ages. Have your kids dig up a little history and research when the first catapults were invented and used! Hint; check out the 17th century!

Join our HTHT @ Home Science Experiment to make your own Catapult: https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/Catapult_EOTD_May%206th.pdf

Image source: Pixabay.com