Tag Archives: Science

Our Easter Egg Science Project

By Johna Till Johnson and Vladimir Brezina

Easter egg science project 1It was bound to happen.

Take a scientist and an engineer, add a kit designed for children, and you’ll end up with a science project.

A few days ago (on the first day of spring, to be exact), we decided to color Easter eggs. We’re not sure whose idea it was (each of us says it originated with the other), but regardless: There we were with 14 hard-boiled eggs and the same PAAS egg-dyeing kit that Johna remembered from childhood. (In Czechoslovakia, too, a country nominally communist but where Easter traditions were hard to uproot, Vlad had something very similar.)

We set to work. The dye tablets fizzed in the vinegar, the appropriate amount of water was added, and the first six eggs were happily soaking in their colors. And then one of us noticed something:

“Hey, what are those lines?” As the dye deepened, several of the eggs were showing white lines, two per egg, circumscribing the eggs and trisecting them neatly. Why was this happening?

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The Sunspot Story

By Johna Till Johnson

Suspended lion face
Spilling at the centre
Of an unfurnished sky
How still you stand,
And how unaided
Single stalkless flower
You pour unrecompensed.

The eye sees you
Simplified by distance
Into an origin,
Your petalled head of flames
Continuously exploding. …

—Philip Larkin, Solar

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What’s the longest-running scientific experiment in history?

I bet you didn’t think of monitoring sunspots.

Sunspots

Sunspots (photo by NASA)

And I can’t definitively say it’s the longest-running experiment —there may be others I haven’t heard of yet. But the first recorded systematic observation of sunspots in the West was by astronomers Thomas Harriot, Johannes and David Fabricius  in 1610 (Chinese astronomers observed them as far back as 300 BC). Scientists have been monitoring sunspots ever since—which means that sunspots have been monitored for the past 405 years!

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Clean-up Crew

By Vladimir Brezina

Do not watch if you are prone to nightmares involving swarming insects! (However, more than 8 million people have not been able to resist watching this classic YouTube video…)

I particularly like the way they carry off the skull in the end… :-)

Some background and explanation is here.

Dance Your Ph.D.

By Vladimir Brezina and Johna Till Johnson

It’s the question every science graduate student dreads:  “So, what’s your Ph.D. research about?” You take a deep breath and begin. People’s eyes glaze over…

The problem isn’t that your life’s work is uninteresting. It’s that the conventional way to explain it can be limiting:  Words can only get so far.  What if there were a better way to tell your story? Something like…  interpretive dance!

The first “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest was organized in 2008 by John Bohannon, the “Gonzo Scientist” of GonzoLabs and a contributing correspondent covering the intersection of science, culture, and art for Science magazine (“who, in true gonzo style, will participate in the events he covers”). Since then, the contest has become an annual event sponsored by Science. For the 2011 contest, 55 dances were submitted “covering everything from psychology to astrophysics,” and the winners have just been announced.

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Fun With Energy Transformation

By Johna Till Johnson

One of the pleasures of having a blog is the ability to quickly share really cool discoveries with like-minded people.  This morning, my friend Steve Crandall sent me the link to his most recent blog post entitled the delight of turning potential energy into kinetic energy.

As Steve writes in his most excellent post:

You’ve all seen videos of large domino chains.  By standing a domino on end you are increasing its potential energy.  Energy that can be released later when the domino tips, turning stored potential energy into the energy of motion – kinetic energy…..With a bit of cleverness you can weave a pile of wooden sticks into a structure storing the energy that you used to flex them for later release.  Fifty sticks will give you and idea – a thousand will give you something wonderful.

He’s not kidding. Wish I had the time and floor space to try it!

If you want to try it, Steve’s post also has a how-to-do-it video.

By the way, I first met Steve at an event hosted by Coburn Ventures. We bonded over shared interests in physics and energy—along with the fact that we both have synesthesia, in my case quite mild and in his, rather intense.