Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Happy Holidays from Mama Joules!

Mama Joules is going on holiday for the next two weeks.

Have a wonderful holiday season! However you choose to celebrate, remember to keep your eyes open for new ways to enjoy science. :)

See you in 2008!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Packing peanuts can be fun (really!)

If you’re like me, packing peanuts are not normally fun. Long after the contents of your package are forgotten, you can still find these little white “peanuts” hiding all over the house. Once, I tried to remove the leftover packing peanuts by vacuuming. I soon discovered that they easily clog the hose of even the most powerful vacuum cleaner!

I’ve since learned that I should take my leftover packing peanuts to the Plastic Loose Fill Council, which operates over 1,500 collection centers in the United States. This organization reports that over 30% of all polystyrene packing peanuts are reused.

So … what’s fun about packing peanuts? When you open your next package, check to see if you have different kinds. Take one of each type of packing peanut and put the pieces in separate glasses of water. After about 15 minutes, look at the packing peanuts. Are any of them dissolving?

Traditional packing peanuts are made of expanded polystyrene, material that is not biodegradable (meaning this material won’t decompose or break down easily in the environment). Some newer packing supplies, like biodegradable cornstarch packing peanuts, are made of environmentally friendly materials. Cornstarch peanuts will dissolve in water; polystyrene peanuts won’t.

Some people use cornstarch peanuts as art supplies. If you dip one end of a cornstarch peanut in water, you can stick it to another peanut. Add a few more and you have a sculpture! This is a wonderful way to recycle your packing peanuts (and it is certainly better than jamming them up your vacuum).

Friday, December 14, 2007

Website of the Week: BAM!

This week’s Website of the Week is BAM!, the Body and Mind pages created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

The mission of BAM! is to provide kids with the information they need to make healthy lifestyle choices. BAM! is divided into six categories, including Diseases, Food & Nutrition, and Your Body. See the Immune Platoon fight "The Flu Krew", discover what may be Lurking in the Locker Room, and find out what type of gear you need to safely take up a new sport. And be sure to check out the healthy recipes in Cool Treats!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fun at the dentist

Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that every child visit the dentist by the age of one to establish a “dental home”? I didn’t either, until I talked to my friends at Dr. Bob Testen’s dental practice.

Prepare for your next check-up by reading the interactive story, Visit the Dentist with Marty. And be sure to visit MouthPower, where you can play games and learn about dentistry and your teeth from Mouthie, the dancing, singing mouth!

Monday, December 10, 2007

The science behind gingerbread houses

Are you planning to make a gingerbread house this holiday season? Before you mix up that first batch of dough, think about the wonderful ways that building a house can teach science.

Whether you make your dough from scratch or make your gingerbread using a boxed mix, you measure out your ingredients and mix them together prior to baking. Following a recipe is similar to how a scientist follows steps when conducting an experiment. Failure to follow the steps correctly can lead to a failed experiment or, in this case, poor building material!

Before you make your house, you must plan your design carefully. A friend of mine used to map her designs out on graph paper to ensure that they were built to scale. Make sure that all of your walls will be the same height. Good planning and measuring of your design is critical to gingerbread house success. You don’t want your house to lean to one side.

Next, you must execute your plan by cutting out the pieces of gingerbread and carefully constructing the house. Are your walls load-bearing? Will they support the roof? One year, I built a lovely gingerbread house and then tried to attach a roof that was heavily coated in gumdrops. The walls of my house buckled under the weight. I had to admit, gumdrop shingles proved to be a poor design choice. I should have gone with a lighter candy.

Finally, you need to recover from any setbacks and keep going when things go wrong. This lesson in tenacity is always helpful for scientific study (when things often go awry). The year that my roof caved in, I decided that my house had an open-air design and really didn’t need a roof anyway!

Check out these great tips on Building a Gingerbread House from veteran home-builder Bob Vila’s crew.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Website of the Week: Infrared Zoo

See animals in a whole new light at this week’s website, Infrared Zoo.

Humans only see a small portion of the light spectrum. What we see is known as visible light. Infrared is the portion of the light spectrum that includes heat emissions. Normally, we can’t tell whether most things are hot or cold just by looking at them, but these photos were taken with a special camera.

Some animals, like pit viper rattlesnakes, perceive infrared light. This ability is thought to help them detect and catch prey. Be sure to visit the Warm and Cold-Blooded page for an eye-catching comparison of what it means to be a warm or cold-blooded animal. My favorite pictures are the ones of the warm-blooded humans holding the cold-blooded animals (a scorpion and a gecko). You can tell that the humans are regulating their body temperatures because “colder” colors are visible along the outside edges of the body with “warmer” colors near the center of the body or body part. The scorpion and gecko’s body temperatures match their surroundings so they are nearly all one color – a cold one. Check out the scorpion’s tail – it is actually warmer where the person is holding it.

[Follow-up: NASA also has a great page explaining infrared light called The Electromagnetic Spectrum: Infrared Waves.]

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Is your school green?

Do you or your kids go to a “green” school? These days, the phrase “green school” can refer to all sorts of environmentally friendly activities or items used at school. Maybe your school was built with solar panels and low-flush toilets or the custodian uses environmentally safe cleaning supplies. You and your classmates might recycle paper and printer ink cartridges or grow food for the cafeteria in your school’s garden. Maybe you conduct energy audits to see which appliances are hogging all of the electricity and where cold air is leaking into your school building.

No matter how you and your school choose to go green, be proud. You are helping to save the planet’s resources!

Monday, December 3, 2007

How about a side order of bugs?

What do Japan, West Africa and the Indonesian island of Bali have in common? They are all parts of the world where people eat bugs! According to a source at the University of Florida, there are about 2,000 edible insect species around the world. Some scientists think that we should encourage people to eat bugs because they are a common and readily available food supply.

Check out these recipes for Edible Insects from teen Aletheia Price or learn more about Insect Snacks from Around the World from the University of Kentucky’s Department of Entomology.

Have you ever eaten a bug? The closest I’ve ever come is eating a steamed snail. I didn’t think it tasted very good, even dipped in melted butter. Maybe an insect would taste better.

Is this the future of dinner?
Photo credit: Nat Edwards