Science Friday

the eggbotWhile I certainly do my fair share of fiction-focused programs, I consider non-fiction programs to be (dare I say it?) just as much fun. And for today’s adventure in non-fiction, we’re talking science!

We’ve offered some interesting science programs in the past. Take, for example, the Chemistry of Magic, in which we demonstrated the real science behind seemingly magical reactions. Or this Rube Goldberg engineering program. Or even this humble preschool story time that featured the life stages of a butterfly. This week, to get a healthy dose of vitamin “S,” I dropped in on my friends at scienceSeeds.

scienceSeeds team

Team scienceSeeds: John, Michal, and Lindsay

ScienceSeeds is a local science enrichment center for grades K-8 . It was founded in 2008 by Michal Melamede. While raising her children, she noticed a lack of hands-on, age-appropriate, science and engineering opportunities. So Michal decided to establish a business that would encourage curiosity, exploration, discovery, and scientific thinking.

Visiting scienceSeeds is always fun. Especially when they let me play with their toys! Here are a few of their current favorites. Perhaps one or two will inspire a little science at your next program?

JOHN’S FABULOUS CANDELABRA

lamp 2I have to start with this one because I’m such a hot glue devotee. This is an LED lamp with hot glue stick shades! It was designed by John to demonstrate circuits, fiber optics and light behavior. He used a hot glue gun to hollow out the bottom of 5 hot glue sticks, and then rigged up a series of little LED bulbs on a simple circuit. Everything was attached to a foam core base, and then the base was wrapped with decorative duct tape. I love it.

HYDRAULIC BUTTERFLY

butterflyThis is another project designed by scienceSeeds staff to teach hydraulics. Using two water-filled syringes and tubing, the butterfly lifts its wings up and down. The syringes are from a medical supply company, the tubing is from a science catalog, the base is wood, the wings are made from foam board, and the butterfly’s body is a clothespin. A little duct tape here and there and you’re ready to go. They also have versions with an owl, a bat, and a dump truck!

FOAM BOARD AUTOMATAUN

star boxOne final project from scienceSeeds’ workshop! This one demonstrates how simple machines and mechanisms work. Turn the crank and the movement of the wooden gears and rods causes the star to spin. The base is made from foam board, the sticks are bamboo skewers, and the gears are little wooden circles purchased from Michael’s craft store. A little hot glue and duct tape seals the deal.  And just look at this sweet double gear version!

bee boxMark my words…I’m GOING to find a way to work a foam board automataun into a story time project. It shall be done. Oh yes, it shall.

THE EGGBOT

the eggbotThis is a recent acquisition at the workshop. It’s the EggBot, an art robot that can draw on round surfaces like eggs, light bulbs, ping pong balls, ornaments, etc. It hooks up to your computer and, with some lovely freeware, will take a design or image and put it right on your object! scienceSeeds is using it to teach CNC and automated design. Here are a couple test subjects…

lightbulbsAlas, an EggBot kit like the one above retails for $219, so it’s well out of my budget. The company that sells it is called Evil Mad Science LLC. Hah hah hah! Minions not included.

CONFETTI VACUUM CLEANER

vacuumThis is a modification of a cardboard kit the staff tested. They found that a 1 liter bottle and plastic propeller worked much better than a cardboard tube and propeller. The foam board base holds a simple circuit that connects to a motor. As the motor spins the propeller, it creates a wind tunnel in the bottle that sucks up pieces of confetti. It’s the perfect way to teach engineering and air flow. It’s wildly popular with the kids too.

THE 3-DOODLER

3-doodlerIt might be a little hard to see this in the photo, but this device lets you do 3-dimentional drawings! That thin green line you see isn’t drooping down from the tip of the doodler. It’s rising up from the piece of paper and standing on its own! You insert little plastic sticks of various colors into one end of the “pen.” The plastic emerges in liquid form out the other end, but quickly hardens. With some practice, you can “draw” amazing 3D creations like these:

popcafe everestrobotscienceSeeds likes to use the 3-Doodler for their 3D modeling workshops, sometimes in conjunction with their 3D printer. A 3-Doodler pen retails for about $100, and additional plastic sticks are approximately $10 for 25. I noticed that the pen makes a loud whirring noise while being operated (a little louder than an electric toothbrush). The staff also mentioned that after extended periods of use, you can smell burning plastic. The smell bothers some kids. But those things aside, it’s a cool little drawing tool.

I’ll leave you with a photo of scienceSeeds’ classroom space. Look at the cheerful red cabinets! The under-the-counter adjustable storage! The cool green chairs! Now imagine it packed full of kids creating, discovering, building, and innovating. Fantastic.

room shot

The Dirt on LEGO

the dirt on legosOver the years, people have learned to contact me before they discard things like surplus archive boxes, old folders, and giant tubes. I always find a way to work them into a story time project (even if it means cramming them in a storage closet for months, praying they don’t topple on me while I’m trying to wrestle a stubborn pack of sparkle stems from a bin).

But our most recent acquisition was a little was unusual. It wasn’t office supplies or packing material. It was a LEGO set. An ancient Civil War LEGO set unearthed from the History Department’s graduate study room.

box of legosThe set had collected a considerable amount of dust over the years, and as I pondered its fate, Katie said “You know, I saw some great LEGO cleaning tips on Pinterest. One woman even threw hers in a washing machine!” Really?

I know that many libraries, classrooms, children’s museums, and homes have LEGO and DUPLO sets in them, and that keeping them clean is a concern and a frustration. So we thought it would be helpful to test 3 different cleaning methods on 1 dirty LEGO set and report the results. Katie gamely volunteered. Here is the report, based on her excellent field notes.

TEST #1: WASHING MACHINE

washing machineFor this method, you’ll need a mesh laundry bag (also knows as a lingerie bag). First, Katie removed all the small bricks and tiny pieces (basically, anything that could fall through the holes of the mesh). Then she pulled the rest of the bricks apart, dropped them in the bag, and wrapped a rubber band around the top for extra security. After reading a number of comments and suggestions on the original Pinterest post, Katie decided to wash the bricks using the delicate cycle, in warm water, on low spin.

Katie’s washing machine is a front-loader. The LEGO set was loud. Super loud. 35 minutes of loud. I asked her if she thought a top-loader would have been quieter, and she said that some of the Pinterest commentators used top-loaders and…it was still super loud.

When the machine stopped, Katie discovered that a small handful of LEGOs had escaped the bag. Not so good. The low spin cycle did dry the bricks a little but they definitely needed air drying.

TEST #2: DISHWASHER

dishwasher Katie prepped another set of bricks and put them in a mesh laundry bag on the top rack of her dishwasher. After consulting her machine’s operating manual, she decided to use her “china” setting (warm water, no heat dry). She didn’t want the LEGOs to melt on a hot water/high heat cycle. The dishwasher was much, much quieter. However, the no heat dry meant that the LEGOs were super wet and needed considerable air drying time.

TEST #3: HAND WASH

sinkA final set of LEGOs were prepped and placed in a small mixing bowl with warm water and dish soap. IMPORTANT! When washing LEGOs in your sink, make sure you put in the drain plug in place. LEGOs in garbage disposal = bad news. Wash and rinse the LEGOs thoroughly, then drain.

drying legosToting piles of wet LEGOs, Katie headed outside with some towels and spread the pieces out on her back porch. But the humidity was so high, she had to bring them back inside and spread them out on her kitchen floor overnight, which worked great.

AND…THE RESULTS!

There weren’t any discernible difference between the 3 washing methods. Strangely, the white and yellow bricks still held on to a little dirt (and it’s not just because dirt shows up more on light colors, we examined all the bricks very closely). The blue bricks were the champions of cleanliness. Not a speck of dirt to be seen!

clean legosCleaning LEGOs in a washing machine is not recommended. It’s just too loud and some bricks escaped, which could potentially scratch the interior of your machine. The dishwasher is quiet, quick, and does the job. But if you use anything other than warm water, you risk warping or melting your LEGOs. So if you’re going for the full-out disinfecting, a good old fashioned hand wash is the way to go. Especially since you can use hotter water (and disinfect with vinegar or diluted bleach if you choose).

The sparkling clean LEGOs were immediately put to good use by Katie’s son, who spent a busy afternoon enthusiastically building an impressive football/castle/Civil War reenactment/futuristic battlefield.

legoscapeWant to see what we’ve done with some of our other recyclables? Check out this post!

Printable Tattoos

ianNo, this isn’t a diehard Pop Goes the Page reader permanently commemorating his fandom. Mr. Ian (whom you might recall seeing in this post) is in fact modeling a custom printable tattoo. Why? Because we’re adding art product reviews to our blogging fun, and thought we’d start by checking out this printable tattoo paper by Silhouette.

tattoo paperI purchased the paper at our local Paper Source store for $11.95. One pack includes 2, 8.5″ x 11″ printable tattoo sheets and 2 adhesive sheets. The instructions call for additional items like “Silhouette software,” a “Silhouette optic scanner,” a “scraper tool,” and “Robo Master software.” You don’t need any of that. You can manage perfectly well with a desktop printer (or a color copier), a credit or ID card, and a pair of scissors.

First, insert the image you’d like to use into a document on your computer. IMPORTANT! If you’re creating a tattoo with writing, or if you need the tattoo to have a particular orientation, you’ll need to mirror the image (i.e. flip it horizontally) so it will display properly later. You can do mirror images in photo editing software (like Photoshop), but we used Microsoft Publisher with much success.

reversed popFeed the tattoo paper into the printer, making sure that the machine is set to print on the paper’s glossy side. We used an HP Officejet printer, but we also tried a color copier. Both worked!

printingWe did notice, however, that the black lettering came out looking cracked when we used the Officejet printer. We didn’t have any problems like that when we used the color copier. So the paper definitely reacts to different types of toners.

cracked lettersWhen the ink is dry, peel and apply the adhesive sheet to the top of the printed image. Then use a credit or ID card to flatten out any winkles or creases. Use scissors to cut the tattoo from the page.

transferring imageTo apply the tattoo to your skin, peel away the adhesive sheet, then press the image against your skin. Cover with a wet paper towel for 30-60 seconds. Remove both the towel and the tattoo paper and you have a new (albeit temporary) tattoo!

shoulder applicationThe creation and application of the tattoos was very easy, but we did notice a few issues when it comes to wearing them. Since this is basically a piece of film with ink adhered to it, there is a definite border around the tattoo. You can see it here (we added a dotted line to the second image in case you missed the border in the first image).

forearm tattoo dotted linesTo be fair, the company does recommend you use their “Silhouette software” and the “optic scanner” to minimize this problem. Apparently, the software makes marks on the paper and the optic scanner cuts around the borders of the tattoo with laser precision. We could have also (ahem) used the scissors to cut a little closer to the image.

Another issue with this product is that, because the tattoos are film, they can look a little wrinkly after they’ve been applied.

hand tattooSo, how do the tattoos hold up over the course of a day? According to the instructions, the tattoos “generally last a day and can be removed with a washcloth.” To put that statement to the test, we gave an Angry Birds tattoo to Katie’s 7-year-old for field testing.

kid test 1The tattoo was supposed to go to Field Day at school, but unfortunately, a fast-moving stomach virus sent our tester home before he could match it against the rigors of 1st grade relay races. He bounced back the next day and the tattoo accompanied him to an end-of-season soccer game. There, it survived 4 hours of heat and humidity. There were definitely signs of wear, but the bird was still easily visible on his forearm through the sweat, grass stains, and victory revels – his team won!

kid test 2The tattoo disappeared when he showered after the game, which was well over 24 hours after its initial application. It did leave a black sticky residue, but that was easily removed with a dab of alcohol on a cotton ball. Here’s an example of the residue on another test tattoo Katie was sporting (the original tattoo read “My mom is lost. Call Jenny 867-5309″).

residueI also discovered that you can simply peel the film off your arm like a super-sticky piece of tape. That was the fate of my forearm tattoo. I wore it for an hour, but then it had to go.

Overall, the tattoos were easy to create. They weren’t perfect in terms of the film borders and wrinkles, but we got a real kick out of making our own tattoo designs. The tattoos held up well to use, but don’t expect them to last more than 24 hours (or one shower).

Now go out there and make yourself a Dauntless tattoo. You know you want one.