Live Long & Prosper

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating,
Live Long and Prosper Day
March 26th

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

If you were ever a fan of Start Trek, the phrase, “Live Long and
Prosper” is a familiar one. Often spoken by Starship Enterprise’s resident Vulcan
and scientist, driven strictly by logic, Mr. Spock. As we celebrate this
special day and meaningful phrase, we take a look at the pop culture icon that
is Mr. Spock, but also the history behind the sentiment and the long-lasting
impact of these simple words. 

The greeting, “Live Long and Prosper” is an abbreviated version of
a traditional Jewish religious blessing. It is translated from the Vulcan
language phrase, ‘dif-tor heh smusma‘, which was so uttered in Star
Trek: The Motion Picture
. The phrase echoes the Hebrew ‘Shalom aleichem’
and the Arabic ‘Salaam alaykum’, which roughly translate as ‘peace be upon
you’.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Leonard Nimoy’s hand demonstrating the Vulcan Salute

In the
Star Trek television series, the phrase was the spoken greeting/blessing that
accompanied the hand gesture called the Vulcan Salute.

In his 1975 autobiography, I am not Spock, Leonard Nimoy, who was Jewish, wrote that he based the Vulcan Salute on the Priestly blessing performed by Jewish Kohanim with both hands, thumb to thumb in this same position, representing the Hebrew letter Shin (ש), which has three upward strokes similar to the position of the thumb and fingers in the gesture. The letter Shin here stands for El Shaddai, meaning “Almighty God”, as well as for Shalom. Nimoy wrote that when he was a child, his grandfather took him to an Orthodox synagogue, where he saw the blessing performed and was impressed by it.

Due to its popularity and impact on pop culture, the Vulcan Salute became a permanent fixture in written language with a dedicated Unicode Standard (U+1F596 🖖) and emoji symbol. The emoji’s American English short name is “vulcan salute” with keywords “finger”, “hand”, “spock”, and “vulcan”.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Terry W. Virts from ISS

The White
House referenced the Vulcan Salute in its statement on Leonard Nimoy’s death,
calling it “the universal sign for ‘Live long and prosper'”. The
following day, NASA astronaut Terry W. Virts posted a photo on
his twitter feed from the International Space Station (ISS) showing
the Salute as the ISS passed over Nimoy’s birthplace of Boston,
Massachusetts.

Because of
their common theme of space exploration, NASA has had perhaps the most
intimate connection with Star Trek of any government agency.
NASA even has a section of its website dedicated to the relationship between
NASA & Star Trek. On the 50th anniversary of the show’s final episode, NASA
published an article detailing 50 years
of NASA and Star Trek connections
!

The first NASA space shuttle was called the Enterprise named after the Star Fleet’s most famous Starship in response to a letter-writing campaign from fans of the television show. The Star Trek cast and crew even visited NASA’s Dryden (now Armstrong) Research Center for a photo opportunity when the Enterprise was rolled out.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Star Trek Cast with Enterprise Space Shuttle

Many Americans have been inspired to become astronauts after watching Star Trek, and some astronauts have even made guest appearances on the show. The casting of African American actress Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura broadcast a powerful message about the position of minorities and women during the height of the civil rights movement; Nichols even actively recruited a diverse crew of new astronauts in real life, including Guion Bluford (the first African American astronaut), Sally Ride (the first female American astronaut), Judith Resnick and Ronald McNair.  Mae Jemison was inspired to become the first African American woman in space, and later Jemison became the first real astronaut to appear in a role on Star Trek when she played Lt. Palmer in 1993.

In his
article, The Science of Star Trek, NASA scientist David Allen Batchelor
explores various features of Star Trek according to how
scientifically accurate or inaccurate they are, and comments upon the feasibility
of the show’s inventions. In some cases, these inventions had already been
achieved!

Immediately
following Leonard Nimoy’s death on February 27, 2015, there were many tributes
shared by those who were inspired by his achievements both on and off the
television and movie screen. U.S. Representative Adam B. Schiff submitted his personal tribute
to Mr. Spock
which can be found in the official congressional record.  

Therefore,
in the words of the beloved Mr. Spock, “Live Long & Prosper”!

Whether
your love of space is limited to the fictional world of Star Trek or the
real-life exploration of space & the final frontier, try this week’s
at-home experiment and make your very own STEM Satellite! Find the lesson plan
and supply list below.

STEM
Satellite Lesson Plan:

Share your
pictures with us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HighTouchHighTechScienceMadeFun

Giant Pandas: Goofball or Genius?

Join High touch High Tech in celebrating
Giant Panda Day
March 16th!

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Giant Panda

Even the toughest among us cannot resist a little tiny internal “awwwww” when we happen upon a viral video of rotund Giant Panda babies bombarding their caretaker with their squishy, playful bodies.  How about when one falls off something in a goofy, bamboo-induced haze?  If you are one of those folks for whom even these panda delights fail to amuse, perhaps it might pique your interest to know that pandas are also absolute evolutionary freaks.  There are few animals on earth that can match the Giant Panda for sheer evolutionary mystery.  Until the 1980’s we did not even understand what they were, taxonomically. And only in 2019 did we figure out the secret of how a biological carnivore managed to subsist on an almost entirely vegan diet.  Pandas are more than just cute little bamboo-chomping doofuses, they are a testament to the relentless drive to adapt and survive that unites all of life on a level that is way more than skin deep.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Red Panda

Since pandas were made known to modern biological science in the 1860’s, the debate raged over if the soon-to-be-world-famous fuzzball was a bear, a relative of a racoon, or its own branch entirely.  Compounding the mystery is the fact that internally, as far as muscles, teeth, and organs, a panda is almost exactly like a bear.  Yet in diet and lifestyle, it resembles another highly adorable mammal of the Southwestern Chinese bamboo forests, the Red Panda, which is more closely related to a skunk.  The Giant Panda and the Red Panda both have elongated wrist bones called “pseudothumbs” that allow them to grip and eat their main meal, bamboo.  Which they do, constantly, to the tune of 20 to 40 pounds a day for a Giant Panda!

Image Source: Pixabay.com
South American Spectacled Bear

If Giant Pandas are bears, which are carnivorous, how is it that they learned to survive almost exclusively on plants?  If they are not bears, how is it that their internal organs are the exact same as bears, without any of the extra stomachs, enzymes, and digestive tricks that allow herbivorous animals to survive on tough, cellulose-based food?  What even IS this freaky little fuzzball?  Thanks to genetic sequencing, some helpful fossils, and some VERY devoted biologists, in 2019 the entire picture began to come together.  It turns out that genetically, pandas are bears.  Their closest living relative is the South American Spectacled Bear, which is itself a very ancient form of bear; it is theorized that pandas are the oldest living branch of the Ursine family tree. 

The fossil record also shows that there were possibly some species of prehistoric panda ancestors that were at least somewhat adjusted to eating plants, with some fossil bear teeth displaying the similar cusps and folds to what a Giant Panda uses to grind up its non-stop daily bamboo feast.  So Giant Pandas are bears… but how do they eat all that low-nutrient cellulose, almost exclusively, and survive?  After years of careful GPS tracking and lots of analyzing poop, researchers discovered the Giant Panda, like any experienced vegan, knows very well how to survive on plants.  It turns out the maybe-not-so-doofy-after-all Giant Panda eats seasonally, and in their seasonal eating is enough protein to sustain your average WOLF!  At one time of year, Giant Pandas eat the nutritious shoots of lower-elevation bamboo, then switch to its leaves until, at the higher elevations, another type of high-nutrient bamboo shoot becomes available.  Giant Pandas are so specialized to eating bamboo that they know it on a molecular level and go through a series of rotations across a year that ensure they get exactly the nutrients they need.  So, don’t be fooled by the cute face and sleepy eyes, pandas are geniuses!  Not only can they survive on a nearly impossible diet, but they have also convinced us humans to feed and protect them, too!

The giant panda’s distinct black-and-white markings have two functions: camouflage and communication.  Most of the panda – its face, neck, belly, rump – is white to help it hide in snowy habitats. The arms and legs are black, helping it to hide in shade. So, for this week’s at-home experiment we are building our very own Scavenger Hunt Binoculars. Maybe you’ll even be able to find one of those tricksy giant pandas on your search! Check out the lesson plan & supply list here!

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

Video: https://youtu.be/Rwuq8SPwi5Y

Sources:
More on the evolutionary mystery of panda bears:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2DbShys9ww

2019 discoveries on Giant Panda diet:
https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2014/07/how-pandas-survive-their-bamboo-only-diet

Bonus adorable baby panda video – because you earned it:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-ovzUNno7g

A Humble Ear of Corn

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
Popcorn Lover’s Day
March 11, 2021

Image Source: Pixabay.com

A humble ear of corn (a.k.a. Maize) might not seem like much.  Maize is so ubiquitous in the modern world, not just in that tasty, crunchy popcorn bucket you get with extra butter at the movies, but in corn-based snacks and cereals, as corn starch, and as the primary animal feed for today’s massive factory farm operations.  Throw in the fact that Ethanol is made from Maize and you could say that the world literally runs on it.  The versatile and incredibly tasty Maize plant also represents a fascinating tale of scientific mystery – with an order of popcorn thrown in.  The mystery of Maize was only solved when geneticists, biologists, and archaeologists united to unravel the true story of its domestication.

Image Source: Pixabay.com

The domestication of crops for human consumption has taken place all over the world, with different cultures domesticating local plants independently, selecting them over generations for bigger fruit or more hardiness until they evolved into the fruits and vegetables, we buy in the supermarket today.  The ancestor of wheat is visually similar to domestic wheat.  The ancestor of an apple looks like an apple.  Even the ancestor of watermelon is recognizable.  But for a long time, no one knew where corn came from.  Its wild ancestor was not apparent, and many thought it was extinct.  By the mid-20th century, George Beadle, a giant in the emerging field of genetics and later winner of the Nobel Prize, had a theory: domestic corn came from a grasslike plant known as Teosinte, native to Mexico.

Teosinte is a bushy, branching plant that looks nothing like the single-stalked corn plant.  It has a fruit that looks like a stick of small grass seeds, encased in a pod so hard it can easily crack a human tooth.  Beadle embarked on a massive cross breeding operation and proved that the genetic differences between Teosinte and Maize were only five genes.  The next generation of geneticists discovered that these five genes were regulatory genes, meaning that one single gene could control huge changes in the plant. Geneticists further theorized that Teosinte and Maize must have diverged about 9,000 years ago.  The next step was to find evidence of where and when the use of Teosinte was adopted by humans. 

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Amazing archeological detective work in Mexico did not seek needle-in-a-haystack examples of fossilized grains. It was directed at analyzing ancient stone grinding tools for “microfossils” of grains still on them. On ancient stone tools, researchers found evidence that Maize was consumed starting around 9,000 years ago, just as geneticists predicted.  It became clearer that Teosinte was the ancestor of Maize.  One more question remained: how did people figure out that Teosinte could even be consumed?  The seeds are so hard and inaccessible, not to mention tiny.  Then someone in a lab tossed some Teosinte seeds into hot oil and the rest is history.  It turns out that Teosinte pops just as popcorn today does, leaving a tiny but delicious popped treat where once there was an impossible kernel.  Without popcorn (well, popteosinte) we would not have the agricultural abundance of Maize that supports so much of our life today!

Thinking of how the mixture of two ingredients creates a reaction (oil + kernel = popcorn), we took a dive into our experiment bank to see if we could find something similar. You are in luck, because we are dusting off our “Bang in a Bag” at-home experiment for you to test the theory of mixing two ingredients to create a REACTION! Check out the lesson plan below, grab your supplies, & have an explosively FUN time! https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/Bang%20in%20a%20Bag_EOTD_May%2012th.pdf

Sources:

Learn more about Maize’s impact on global history:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6teBcfKpik

The amazing genetic detective work on Maize’s origins:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBuYUb_mFXA

An Indigenous American perspective on Maize:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMIuem1J3OQ

Long Live the Peach

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
Peach Blossom Day
March 3, 2021

Imagine a hot summer’s day, sitting in the shade at a picnic with your favorite people.  You open your picnic basket to find a gloriously ripe, perfect-in-every-way peach.  You take a bite and savor that unique combination of texture, flavor, and juiciness that makes perfectly ripe peaches so wonderful, wipe a little juice off your chin, and smile….   

Image Source: Pixabay.com

OK, sorry to have to bring you crashing back to snowy late winter, but from that moment of peachy Zen, perhaps you can see why peaches, perfection, and the joy of life have gone hand in hand for centuries.  Not only does calling someone “a peach” make a fine compliment, peaches have been immortalized in rock songs, are associated with the entire American state of Georgia, and are even one of the world’s favorite emojis.  No culture on earth loves a peach more than Chinese culture, the people who first domesticated and perfected the peach far back in the ancient past.  In China, the peach blossom symbolizes happiness, and the peach fruit itself is a symbol of longevity and the full enjoyment of a long, healthy life.  Ancient Chinese folk tales tell of an Orchard of the Gods where the Peach Tree of Immortality grows – anyone who manages just one bite of the juicy fruit gets eternal life.  The Chinese God of Longevity, Shou Lao, is almost always depicted holding a peach, and peach-themed decorations and cakes are a customary part of any older person’s birthday. 

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Cultures around the world often turn to the natural world for symbols that can express the joy of life and hope for longevity.  In some Indigenous American cultures, the turtle was a sacred symbol of a long, healthy life.  The strong, ever-enduring turtle also symbolized the earth itself, the giver of all life.  Even today many Indigenous American groups refer to the American Continent as “Turtle Island.”  Currently, turtles and their tortoise cousins are known to science as some of the longest-lived animals on the planet, weathering season after season in their slow and steady fashion.  The Royal Court of Oyo State, in Nigeria, claimed a tortoise named Alagba, “The Elderly One,” was supposedly 344 years old.  There is no 100% proof of this claim; however, the crown of world’s oldest Testudine, or any known animal, in fact, goes to Jonathan, a 187-year-old Tortoise living on St. Helena.

Image Source: Pixabay.com

In the European world, many thinkers from Aristotle to Leonardo da Vinci revered the humble salamander, believing that the creature was able to constantly renew itself and was therefore indestructible.  Salamanders were thought to be born from fire, live impervious to fire’s damage, and be able to renew themselves constantly through the power of fire.  Leonardo da Vinci was particularly fascinated with them, and King Francis I of France adopted the salamander as his personal emblem.  Contemporary biologists would never put a salamander under any threat of fire, but the salamander’s well-documented ability to regenerate its limbs may have something to do with its long association with indestructability and longevity.

Image Source: Pixabay.com

From peaches to salamanders to evergreen trees and tortoises, people have long looked to the natural world for proof that a long, healthy, and happy life is truly possible.  Many scientists around the world are currently working on the issue of longevity, researching many possibilities to unlock the secret of long life.  For some researchers, it may lie in psychological and emotional health, in a person’s mindset, upbringing, and relationships.  For some researchers it lies in the genes.  For others, it is diet and exercise that is the “fountain of youth.”  But in today’s world, science does show us that there is yet another animal worthy of admiration (and study) for its longevity: The Immortal Jellyfish, Turritopsis dohrnii.  This incredible creature is literal proof that longevity, even immortality, exists in nature.  When it dies and sinks to the sea floor, the cells simply regenerate into tiny polyps and continue living.  Only recently discovered and not fully understood, this unbelievable animal is indisputable proof that it is within natures design to attain a long, healthy life!  So, sit back, relax, and take a bite of that peach.  Life is sweet, and it can be long and healthy, too.

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Our little insect friends, bees, may not enjoy the long life that other creatures do, but they sure do make an impact while they buzz around! In fact, bees play an important role in the longevity of the peach blossom through pollination! So, in honor of Peach Blossom Day on March 3rd, we invite you to play our Bee Pollination Game! Check out the lesson plan and supply list link below…and then maybe enjoy one of those delicious, juicy peaches!
https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/bee_pollination_game.pdf

Sources:

Learn more about the Immortal Jellyfish:
https://www.bbcearth.com/modal/newsletter/#_

The rich tradition of Salamander Lore in the European world:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salamanders_in_folklore

The Oldest Tortoises – BBC News

Turtle Symbolism:
https://blog.nativehope.org/native-american-animals-turtle-k%C3%A9ya

A collection of Indigenous American turtle myths:
http://www.native-languages.org/legends-turtle.htm

Chinese Symbols of Longevity in popular culture:
https://www.wofs.com/8-great-longevity-symbols-for-the-home/

The DEFINITIVE rock anthem about peaches:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvAnQqVJ3XQ

Podcast: Mission to Mars

Image Source: Pixabay.com

High Touch High Tech’s February Podcast, Mission to Mars, is live! Join Dinosaur Dan, Narwhal Nina, and special guest Earthquake Ethan as they talk about space exploration, the Mars rover, and the future of humankind!

Recorded live from Dinosaur Dan’s very own Tesla!

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Pistachios, a yummy seed!

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
National Pistachio Day
February 26, 2021!

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Pistachios are the seeds from the fruit of a small Persian tree, Pistachia vera. They have been cultivated for at least 3,000 years, widely in Central Asia to the Mediterranean region. Green and slightly sweet, pistachios are called nuts, but botanically are seeds. Related botanically to cashews and mangoes, pistachios are one of the oldest flowering nut trees, and are one of the only two nuts mentioned in the Bible.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pistachios
ripen in late summer or early fall growing so energetically that the kernel
splits the shell. These trees are wind pollinated which means one male tree can
produce enough pollen for 25 seed-bearing female trees. Female trees produce
their first seeds at age five and can bear fruit for up to 200 years!

Native to
western Asia and Asia Minor, the trees grew wild in high desert regions and
legend has it that for the promise of good fortune, lovers met beneath the
trees to hear the pistachios crack open on moonlit nights. 

Thanks to
their high nutritional value and long storage life, pistachios were an
indispensable form of sustenance among early explorers and traders, including
travelers across the ancient Silk Road that connected China with the West.

Image Source: Pixabay.com

The
kernels can have different colors, ranging from yellow to shades of green. They
are usually about an inch long and half an inch in diameter. But if you want to
taste one, you’ll have to crack open its hard shell first.

Have you
ever seen a red pistachio? In the 1930s, importers began dyeing the shells
bright red to disguise blemishes that occurred during harvesting. This practice
made the pistachios more attractive to consumers. Though some enjoy the red
color, many believe the red dye adversely affects the taste of the pistachio
kernels.

Pistachios
became a food as early as 7,000 B.C. They came to the United States in the
mid-19th century and commercial production began in the 1970s when farmers
began diversifying from the heavy almond industry. The first major commercial
crop was harvested in 1976.

California,
Arizona, and New Mexico make up all of America’s commercial pistachio
production. You can buy pistachios shelled or unshelled, roasted, or salted. They
are available in most grocery stores, and you can buy them in bulk from
pistachio growers.

California
is second only to Iran in pistachio production, according to the Agricultural
Marketing Resource Center, a group of experts from Iowa State University,
Kansas State University and the University of California, who serve as an
information resource for agricultural producers.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Pistachio Farm, Bardeskan, Iran

Iran is
universally known for producing some of the best quality pistachios in the
world. In 2018, the global production of pistachios was about 1.4 million metric
tons, with Iran and the United States as leading producers,
together accounting for 72% of the total. Secondary producers were Turkey,
China, and Syria.

In Iran,
pistachios are known as the smiling nut.  In China, they are called the
happy nut. Pistachios are also known as the green almond. No matter the name,
they are delicious!

Image Source: Pixabay.com

We all know that pistachios are good, but we only eat the seeds.
What happens to all those shells? What would you do with thousands of tons of
leftover nutshells? It is a question that Turkey — the world’s third-biggest
producer of pistachios, behind Iran and the USA, has been asking itself
for years.

Usually discarded pistachio shells end up in landfills, but
pistachio-loving Turks think they have found a far better solution by turning the
shells into a biogas, an alternative fuel produced by the breakdown of organic
matter.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Biomass Heating Power Plant

Now Turkey wants to use pistachio shells to power its first
eco-city, which will require fermenting tons of the green waste in so-called
digesters, and then using the resulting gases, mostly methane, to generate
heat.

The idea is not as odd as it sounds. For starters, the green city
will be built in what is arguably the best possible location: Gaziantep
Province. This southern region near the Syrian border is the heart of Turkey’s
pistachio production, yielding more than half of the country’s pistachios!

“When you plan such environment-friendly systems, you take a
look at the natural resources you have. So, we thought the ecological city
could be heated by burning pistachio shells,” explains Seda Muftuoglu
Gulec, the municipality’s expert on green architecture.

This peculiar source of energy is renewable and cheap because
Turkey has plenty of shells to go around, so much so that it exported 6,800
tons of pistachios last year! 500 tons shy of the weight of the Eiffel Tower, according
to the Southeast Anatolia Exporters Union.

Experts say turning pistachios into biogas, while untested, is not
only technically feasible but also extremely convenient. Turkey claims
that nutshells are the most efficient source of alternative energy in the
region and could satisfy up to 60 percent of the city’s heating needs.

The planned 7,900-acre, nut-fueled city will be six miles from the
province’s capital city, Gaziantep, and is expected to become home to 200,000
people.

This is Turkey’s first attempt at building an eco-city, and it will be the only one in the world that is heated by pistachios. In Australia, macadamia nutshells are already being turned into biomass. Meanwhile in Monterrey, Mexico, the methane generated from decaying garbage is being turned into electricity to illuminate city lights.

Clever people and scientists the world over are turning to green energy as a useful substitute for fossil fuels. Think about that next time you eat some pistachios!

Now, we all know that nuts contain fat….good fat, but fat none the less. The team at High Touch High Tech has come up with a FUN way to test if foods have fat. Check out the lesson plan, grab your supplies…and a handful of nuts, and try our Nutty Nutrients Fat Tester at home experiment!

https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/nutty_nutrients.pdf

Get a “Charge” out of National Battery Day!

Image Source: Pixabay.com

It’s
National Battery day! What a shock! We get a “charge” out of this day every
year! Observed annually on February 18th, the day serves to
appreciate the convenience batteries provide to us in our everyday lives.

Before we can appreciate batteries, we better determine what a battery is. Batteries are a collection of one or more cells whose chemical reactions create a flow of electrons in a circuit. All batteries are made up of three basic components: an anode (the ‘-‘ side), a cathode (the ‘+’ side), and an electrolyte (a substance that chemically reacts with the anode and cathode).

When the anode and cathode of a battery are connected to a circuit, a chemical reaction takes place between the anode and the electrolyte. This reaction causes electrons to flow through the circuit and back into the cathode where another chemical reaction takes place. When the material in the cathode or anode is consumed or no longer able to be used in the reaction, the battery is unable to produce electricity. At that point, your battery is “dead.”

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Batteries that must be thrown away after use are known as primary batteries. Batteries that can be recharged are called secondary batteries. Batteries also come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and occupy an indispensable role everywhere in our lives.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Voltaic Pile Battery

Let’s go back in time to the very first battery. The first true battery was invented by the Italian physicist, Alessandro Volta, in 1800. Volta stacked discs of copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn) separated by cloth soaked in salty water. Wires connected to either end of the stack produced a continuous stable current. WOW! If only Benjamin Franklin would have known, he would not have gone outside during a lightning storm flying a kite!

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Baghdad Battery – ceramic pot, tube of copper, & rod of iron

But wait, was Alessandro truly the first? Has anybody ever heard of the Baghdad Battery? The Baghdad Battery or Parthian Battery is a set of three artifacts which were found together: a ceramic pot, a tube of copper, and a rod of iron. It was discovered in modern Khujut Rabu, Iraq close to the metropolis of Ctesiphon, the capital of the Parthian (150 BC – 223 AD) and Sasanian (224–650 AD) empires of Persia and it is believed to date from either of these periods. Can you imagine the level of ingenuity these people had 2000 years ago?

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Faraday disk, the first electric generator, consisting of a copper disk rotating
between the poles of a horseshoe shaped magnet

As we take a deeper dive into batteries, we must mention a man named Michael Faraday. He was an English physicist & chemist. Michael Faraday was one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century. His many experiments contributed greatly to the understanding of electromagnetism. In 1820 Michael Faraday produced the first known compounds of carbon and chlorine. In 1821 he invented the first electric motor and in the early 1830s he discovered a way to convert mechanical energy into electricity on a large scale, creating the first electric generator.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Energizer Bunny

By 1898,
the Colombia Dry Cell became the first commercially
available battery sold in the United States. The manufacturer,
National Carbon Company, later became the
Eveready Battery Company, which produces the Energizer brand, and we
all know the Energizer Bunny!

If you got a “charge” out of this blog post and want to try your hand at being a scientist like Michael Faraday, check out our at-home Electromagnet experiment! Click the link below for lesson plan and supplies! This activity is electrifyingly FUN!
https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/Electromagnet-REV-2-02-2021.pdf

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