Kitchen Science

I have always thought it would be amazing to center a chemistry class completely around what happens in the kitchen.  After all, every time a person bakes or cooks, they performing several different science experiments at once.  Combining ingredients in a specific way (stoichiometry, reactions, kinetics), watching things rise and fall (gas laws), learning the heartbreak of failure (all science all the time).  Okay, I am hopefully just kidding about the last one, but I mean, it is all there.  That is why I was so excited when I came across this article from NatGeo that provides an amazing example of doing just this with kids!  Let kids play with the ingredients of cookies.

I would actually take this experiment even a step further.  Have your kiddo keep notes on what they are adding.  Let them track the height and width of the cookie.  Let them write down observations of taste of the batter (if you are willing) and the end product.  This is a really nice summer activity.  Full disclosure: I could see this taking a long time, especially if the kids are really young (think 3rd grade and below).  However, this is an amazing way to let kids keep thinking about the science that they know and really letting them apply the scientific method.

And as a quick aside, I will remind you of my last post that talked about the amount of knowledge lost over the summer breaks.  This activity can also help students keep their math skills sharp!  Double Win!!

I will also write up a shorter version of this and provide a lab notebook page on our website (I will link it a little later) if you want your child to be able to take some notes while going through this.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/people-and-culture/food/the-plate/2015/01/09/experimental-cookie-science/

School Breaks and Math Skill Loss

With spring break on the mind, it is easy to get distracted from work and school.  Maybe you are dreaming of vacation plans, or maybe you are just dreaming of sleeping in.  Either way, probably the last thing on your mind is school and math.  However, it turns out, these breaks in learning can often lead to catastrophic losses in math skills.  Obviously summer break is going to have greater consequences (some research suggests you lose up to 2.6 months of math skills over summer break…read more here), but preparing to stay busy over breaks can be an easier habit to build over the week of spring break.

You can start by introducing students to different math games.  You can also just have students work on math problem sets, but they are probably not going to be as excited about that.

Here are some sites with some math ideas:

Prodigy Game Blog

Scholastic Game Ideas

More Math Games

 

Monty Hydrogen and the Quest for the Holy Fusion Reaction

By Terry Caston

It is the year 1820, just around the dawn of the industrial revolution. The world population is about 1 billion. You were probably born on a farm, work hard every day growing all your own food, and you may never leave your hometown your entire life. If you wanted to say happy birthday to granny who lives across the country, you sent a letter in the mail months in advance. If you wanted to read a book when the sun went down, you lit a candle-which you probably made by hand. Flash forward. It is the year 1920, and the world population is about 1.8 billion. You might live in the countryside, but you could go to the big city for a job in a factory. You may be lucky enough to ditch your horse and buggy for the brand new invention, the car. Want to say hi to granny, you could pick up one of those rotary phones, and you could turn a light bulb on to see at night. Fast forward again to today, the world population is about 7.2 billion. It doesn’t really matter where you were born because we have planes, trains and automobiles. Want to talk to granny? Just # or ‘like’ her latest Instagram post, but not Snapchat cause granny doesn’t know how to snap. Want to do anything at all, just ask your phone.

The quality of life has increased dramatically over time, and this is largely due to the availability of energy to power our lights, machines, phones, cars and devices. However, as the population of this planet increases, we put more strain on the global supply of fossil fuels and the environment. You’ve probably heard somewhere on the news, or heard someone talking, or read in an article something about the energy crisis, and this is a very real problem. The gasoline from your cars and the coal and natural gas burned in power plants to keep our phones charged pump dangerous gases into the atmosphere. These gases are clearly a major contributing factor to the rise in temperature of the planet. Water levels will rise and coastal cities will flood, super storms will become more violent, and resources will become scarcer causing more competition and violence to attain them. At current usage rates, it is likely we will run out of oil, gas and coal in your lifetime. Sound scary? It is.

But we humans are pretty good at solving problems, and there is so much free energy around us. Wind powers giant wind turbines to create energy. Solar panels use energy from the sun to create energy or to heat giant tubs of water to evaporate into steam and power turbines. We dam rivers to run water over turbines in hydroelectric power plants. We even use heat from the earth to turn water into steam and power turbines. However renewables only account for 10-20% of the energy generation on the planet, and that demand keeps going up and the developing world industrializes.

Then you’ve got nuclear energy. Every nuclear power plant today is a fission reactor. With fission, we take really big atoms like uranium and plutonium and break them down into smaller atoms. Fission creates massive amounts of energy, but it also creates massive amounts of nuclear waste which has to be put into barrels and buried for millions of years. There is also a limited supply of nuclear fuel, maybe a couple hundred years, and the safety and security risks around the radioactive waste make nuclear fission unpopular. It doesn’t look too great, but there is one energy source that is the holy grail of holy grails and would solve all of the world’s energy problems tomorrow.

Can you think of an energy source that is so powerful that at 93 million miles away it will literally burn your retinas out of your eyes if you stare at it for too long? The sun operates by nuclear fusion. This is different from fission which was discussed above. Where fission is splitting a really big atoms, fusion works by smashing two very small atoms together like hydrogen, and making helium. When you smash these two hydrogens together, the resulting helium atom is just a tiny bit lighter than the two hydrogen atoms. You’ve heard 2+2 = 4, this is more like 2+2 = 3.999999. That tiny little bit of mass is converted completely into energy. Ever heard of that famous Einstein equation E = mc2? The E is energy (what we want). The ‘m’ is mass (that tiny little bit of difference between the hydrogen and helium). And the c (this is the important part), the c is the speed of light. That’s 670,600,000 miles per hour. And then it’s squared. That’s a lot of zeros. So moral of the story, tiny bit of mass is A LOT of energy.

So where do we find the fuel for this magical fusion? What has hydrogen in it? Water! Have you ever seen a picture of earth from space? We have A LOT of water. And remember how fission had nuclear waste? Well there is much less nuclear waste from fusion, and the waste is safe to humans in hundreds of years, not millions of years. Can you imagine a world where we had an almost infinite energy supply (fusion) from an essentially unlimited fuel supply (sea water)? Energy would be free. Wars over oil and fossil fuels would stop tomorrow. We would stop burning fossil fuels, and the only place you’d find gasoline powered automobiles would be museums. So great, fusion sounds awesome, why are we wasting time reading this blog, let’s go fuse some stuff now right?

Wrong. We’ve been working at this for a long time, and it’s not easy. You’ve got to get two positively charged atoms together, and they don’t want to get close. Ever tried to push the positive side of two magnets together? It’s kind of like that times on a much bigger scale. In order to do this, we have to heat the reactants up into a material called a plasma, and that takes a lot of energy to start. The only places we’ve been able to create the conditions to start fusion on Earth are in thermonuclear explosions. The sun can do this because it’s really big and has gravity on its side but much harder in a lab. You’re essentially making a tiny star in the lab. Then you have to contain the little star which is a whole other set of engineering challenges. This was in fact the entire premise behind the 2004 movie Spiderman 2, where Dr. Octopus makes a fusion reactor, and then he goes crazy. We’ve been able to create fusion reactions on Earth as a proof of concept, but only for very short periods of time, seconds, before the reaction stops. Though people have been seriously researching fusion since the 1950’s, commercial fusion power plants are still out of reach. This is a problem that will probably be solved by the next generation of scientists who are middle school students today, so if you really want to save the world and think about going into fusion research, I guarantee the vine or snapchat of the first sustainable fusion reaction will get a lot of likes.

A Lifetime of Curiosity

by Robert (Bud) Talbot, PhD

Dr. Talbot’s STEM of choice is Science with a focus on physics education. He now works for The University of Colorado Denver, as an assistant professor of science education in the School of Education and Human Development. Dr. Talbot helps to recruit and train new secondary school science teachers, and does research on teaching and learning science at the university level. In his spare time, outside of work, Dr. Talbot loves to run, work with technology (especially amateur radio!), engage in citizen science projects, and do sciency things with his 6 year old twin daughters. If there was one thing he wished he had known before college about STEM, it would be “how being scientifically literate shapes the way you do anything and everything in the world!”

He studied for many years to get where he is, first at Indiana University for degrees in Geology and science education (BS and MS), then at the University of Colorado Boulder for a PhD in science education, researching how to develop tests and surveys to be used in science teaching and learning.

Introduction

My bio is above, but that is not who I am. Here’s the truth about me: I’m a geek and I’ve always been a geek. I love geeky things like technology, computing, and amateur radio. But I also love to be active. I’m totally obsessed with running and I love to dig deep into all of the data related to my running: GPS tracks, heart rate, power output, pace- lots of numbers! All of this geekery was instilled in me early on. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where we spent a lot of time outdoors, camping, hiking, taking crazy roadtrips. Did I mention maps? I LOVE maps. They are everywhere in my house. Anyway, back to my childhood. My mom told me that I once went to the public library at the age of 6 and asked for a book on “splitting atoms.” Of course I don’t recall that, but I bet it was a cool book. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was well on my way to being a science teacher.

Materials and Methods

Degrees can only tell you so much about a person’s STEM career, here’s my actual journey: I thought I wanted to be an accountant when I started college. My brother in law was an accountant and I really looked up to him. But the classes turned out to be really boring! Then I discovered Geology. What fun! Maps, rocks, lots of camping and hiking. That was the best. So now I was on my way to being a geologist. Well, I ended up taking a few years off from school before finishing (long story…) during which time I realized that my true passion was trying to help others see how cool science was. I was always asking questions and getting others to geek out with me. So it seemed natural that I should be a teacher!

I went back to school and became a high school physics and Earth science teacher. It was a great experience, and I was fortunate enough to learn a lot and build lasting relationships with many of my students. I know that my work made a difference. After seven years of teaching, I yearned for more learning and to work with teachers, so I went to graduate school in Boulder. It was there that I learned about research on teaching and learning, which prepared me for the job I now have as a professor.

Results

Right now, I am focusing on undergraduate science education at my job as an assistant professor. We help other professors to think about better ways to teach biology, chemistry, and physics at the university, and investigate the impacts of innovative teaching on how students learn. Our main focus is to help students in these courses succeed and become prepared to pursue their future goals. Our work is making a difference!

Discussion

I love science education, and especially physics, and here’s why: it really helps me to see how important it is to have a scientific worldview. I can apply scientific reasoning to any aspect of my life. Not only is that fun, it is useful. Many of the skills and dispositions that we use as scientists (like curiosity, research methods, and writing ability) are useful in all aspects of life. And my interest in physics and Earth sciences lets me do lots of fun things in my spare time, like amateur radio (my callsign is W0RMT), and participating in citizen science projects (check out CoCoRaHS, mPING, CWOP, SETI@home, and LHC@home).

Science is everywhere, and it’s fun and useful. It leads to a lifetime of curiosity!   

My Job Wasn’t Even Around When I Was in School…

By Chris Hall

Introduction– Who I really am

Math and Science were always my favorite subjects in school. My parents really helped foster that love and encouraging me in those fields. Those subjects came easy to me in school, whereas English and history, not so much. I loved Capsela which is a construction toy with gears and motors. Sort of like LEGOS with motors. I grew up before computers were mainstream. That’s right, I never had one in my house before going off to college. Nintendo was the first of any type of computer I had at home, and I fondly remember playing the original Legend of Zelda with my brother watching me.

I was also full of energy and loved sports, and wanted to get involved in whatever I could. I played soccer, baseball, and basketball when I was little, and then moved onto track & field in high school. To this day I am still training and competing in athletics, now as a cyclist.

Materials and Methods– How I got here

I fell in love with physics in high school. I was always looking for answers. Science, especially physics, seems to have an answer for everything. I loved challenging my family at dinner with in depth questions like where the universe came from? and what is time?

 

It also helped I had a very cool high school physics teacher. He was very laid back, we even called him ‘Ron’. We even got to launch model rockets one day for class.

Results– What I do now

After spending years writing software to help solve problems and making people’s lives and jobs easier, I moved into management because I thought I could do a better job than any other manager I had. I watched managers struggle with effectively managing software developers. Developers were a new breed of employee who were very creative and talented, but also introverted. I liked the challenge of motivating developers as well as helping clients figure out what IT solutions they really wanted.

My job consists of running meetings in my pajamas from my home office over Skype. I have a wireless headset so I can find time to run down to the kitchen for a quick snack. I go into the office once a week to meet the team for lunch at my favorite Denver sandwich shop…Heidi’s. I am an expert at running meetings very efficiently to help the team reach its goal. I am also an expert as creating a team environment working with remote employees (probably also working in their pajamas). I help foster collaboration by encouraging small talk before meetings, and asking trivia questions at the end of meetings. During the meeting I show graphs, charts, and task lists to keep people on target, but the trivia is usually the highlight 😉

Here I am at my home office.

Chris 1

Here I am experimenting with how far I can lean the bike before it slides out.

Chris 2

Discussion– Passion for the subject

I love IT Management, and here’s why:

Being a manager, I get to work with a lot of smart people doing a lot of very interesting things. Rather than doing just a few cool things on my own, I enjoy creating teams to make significant achievements and advancements in their fields. I really enjoy the people aspect of management where I get to help great people achieve amazing results which they can’t do on their own.

My analytical side loves data and tracking the team performance to more accurately predict results, such as when software will be ready to release. I create custom estimation methods to best match the team. When we release a version, I get to see how accurate my estimates are. From there I can make adjustments for the next version and the process continues.