Science Delivered on The Radio Show Esoterica!

Did you know Marie Curie had a daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie who won a Noble Prize in Chemistry? Get a run down of some of the early women pioneers in STEM in this Esoterica podcast! We are happy to say that Science Delivered gets a shout-out at the end. It's a short program so we highly recommend listening to the whole thing, but if you MUST skip ahead our piece starts around 2:47.

Thanks to Chris Kenna and Esoterica for this great piece!

*Esoterica is weekly radio program in Maine.

Book Announcement: "Experimenting with Science" is published!

Science Delivered founder "Dr. Olivia" has authored her first book! "Experimenting with Science" is published by Wiley and the For Dummies people. It's part of a new Dummies series for kids, aimed at ages 7-11, but we think grown-ups can enjoy it too.

Inside you'll find some of our favorite experiments! All experiments are done with simple and mostly household materials. We take on: Forces, Air Pressure, Sound, Chemistry, Plants and Animals, Perception and Art and Science. Check out the bonus material too!

Time for Credits! Our models were Teke Helms and Annika and Avery Pitts. Sam Poon did much of the photography work. Cynthia Mullins did several of the art and science experiments and inspiration for using recycled materials for Magnet Monsters can from Erin Pennell from ArtFORM. Paul Bonthius and Charles Toth did the technical editing, and Oliver Mullins helped with some Chemistry. Stephanie Mullins helped edit some of the "layman" pictures we had. Thanks everybody for your great efforts!

14 Definitions of Critical Thinking

Here at Science Delivered an important part of our mission is promoting confidence and critical thinking. Kids and adults possessing these attributes are well prepared to pursue their goals and navigate life’s obstacles. But while the words ‘critical thinking” gets thrown around quite a bit, we rarely see a critical analysis of the term itself. So what does 'critical thinking' really mean?

The dictionary definition is:

"The objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.”

But this definition isn’t overly helpful. So, in order to define this skill that we aim to cultivate, we’ve come up with 14 of our own definitions. Here it goes!

What does 'critical thinking' really mean?

  1. Critical thinking means being willing to change your position or beliefs as you collect more data.

  2. Critical thinking means being open to (quality) data that contradicts your previous beliefs.

  3. Critical thinking can mean ignoring an emotional or “gut” reaction to new information; our guts can make mistakes!

  4. Critical thinking means taking into account the source of the information.

  5. BUT critical thinking also means never (or rarely) dismissing information out of hand simply because of the source.

  6. Critical thinking means understanding that presented facts can be technically true but the manner in which they are presented can be skewed or misleading.

  7. Critical thinking means understanding that people, companies, ads and politicians often rely on authoritative sounding “science” and “statistics” to change your beliefs or behavior. Sometimes the facts they present are legitimate, but often they are not. Learning how to tell the difference makes navigating the world easier.

  8. Critical thinking means viscerally understanding that you don’t know everything.

  9. Critical thinking means resisting believing things solely because they fit in with your worldview.

  10. Critical thinking means understanding that others have had truly different experiences than you and may have different values and expectations of the world. This doesn’t (usually) mean one person’s values are right and another’s are wrong.

  11. We can’t be experts on everything, so we have to trust experts to inform our beliefs and ideas. But experts are not infallible – they can be wrong! In our opinion critical thinking means trusting the experts around 80-85% of the time.

  12. Critical thinking means being skeptical, especially when things seem somewhat unbelievable, but not being dismissive out of hand of new ideas.

  13. Critical thinking is often described as removing emotion from your ideas and decisions, but we only partially agree with that. Sometimes emotions and empathy are needed for sound critical thinking.

  14. Critical thinking means knowing that just because you have believed something all your life, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true! Sometimes beliefs and ideas need to be reevaluated as we grow.

 

Teaching and engaging in critical thinking is helpful for the individual student and helpful for society. Critical thinking helps counteract bias and lets us evaluate what our biggest needs are and where our energy is best spent. We hope we can help our students obtain these lofty goals!

We’d love to hear from you – is there a definition of critical thinking that you'd like to add to our list?

 

Oobleck and Non-Newtonian Fluids

Move like crazy - or sink!

Recently at Science Delivered, we created an Oobleck Pool. Never heard of this before? Watch the video below and see if you see anything unexpected.

 

wHAT'S GOING ON?

"Oobleck" is the popular name given to a corn starch and water mixture. This mixture has the fascinating property of being a solid or a liquid depending on the pressure, or shearing force, exerted upon it. More on this down below, but in practical terms, it means that smacking the Oobleck Pool with your feet temporarily turns the surface into solid. But if you place you feet (or hands, or elbow etc) into the Oobleck slowly, you'll get sucked right in.

 

Where does the name "Oobleck" come from?

           The original Oobleck from Dr. Seuss

          The original Oobleck from Dr. Seuss

The term "Oobleck" comes from an early work of Dr. Seuss, Bartholomew and the Oobleck. Magicians make a green gooey substance come down from the sky; it creates havoc in the land and look quite similar to the cornstarch and water mixture when you play with small amounts of it and let it drip. Our Oobleck can create havoc too - if you get stuck in it!

 

What is a non-Newtonian Fluid?

This might be best answered by defining a "Newtonian" fluid, which is an ideal liquid. In lay terms, the flow of a Newtonian fluid will not change no matter what you do (assuming constant temperature). If you consider water, you can pour water our slowly, or stir it really fast, or shake it up in a bottle and flows remains the same in all conditions. The viscosity does not change.

In contrast, consider trying to get ketchup out of a glass bottle. The ketchup will sit, clumped, requiring you to bang the bottle to get it out . . . at which point it would all come out at once. The applied force (hitting the bottle) causes the viscosity of the ketchup to change. The Oobleck is a mixture of corn starch and water. When you apply force to this mixture, the mixture hardens, enough so that you can walk on a pool of it. But if the force is too weak, the substance will act as a liquid and you will sink right in.

 

Are all non-newtonian fluids the same?

No! Non-Newtonian fluids can be classified as shear-thinning or shear-thickening. Meaning, fluids can either decrease or increase their viscosity in response to force. Remember how the ketchup flowed quickly out of the bottle once you hit it? That means it is sheer-thinning, it flows more easily in response to force. Other shear-thinning fluids are paint, blood, whipped cream and lava. The Oobleck corn starch and water mixture, on the other hand, is shear-thickening. This mixture becomes a solid with increased force, and acts as a liquid otherwise, as you can see from the video above and this one here.

 

It is interesting to note that the Oobleck is often compared to quicksand, however, according to this article, quicksand is shear thinning, and therefore behaves in an opposing manner to the Oobleck. In quicksand, it is the force of walking on it that liquifies the substance, which is why frantic struggling will only get you deeper. See the powerful effects of quicksand, and how to escape here.

 

So How do you make an oobleck pool?

Oobleck is easy to make in small quantities - just add a cup of water to ~ 3/4 cups of cornstarch and kneading it with your hands until the cornstarch is mixed in and not clumpy. More detailed instructions can be found here or here.

Making a pool is a whole other story. It's messy and expensive, and a difficult clean up, but if you are really hankering to do it we will give you instructions!

You will need:

200 pounds corn starch (can be modified for different size pools)

20 gallons of water

Kiddie pool

Cement mixer

Tarp to protect the ground

~15 heavy duty trashbags for disposal.

We started by using this kiddie pool and finding a wholesale food company who generously allowed us to open an account even though we wouldn't be making regular purchases. 500 pounds of cornstarch delivery later and we were ready to go! You can order large quantities of corn starch off Amazon, although it's not cheap.

We then rented a cement mixer. Do not even attempt to mix this by hand! Ours fit one 50 pound bag of cornstarch at a time. We used roughly 5 gallons of water for every 50 pound bag. Even with the cement mixture we would get clumps of unmixed cornstarch stuck to the sides and have to scrape them off. Test the mixture with your hands, if you move your hand slowly through the material (with the mixer off of course) it should be relatively clump free.

We ended up getting a pretty decent pool with "only" 200 pounds of cornstarch, so it took four cycles in the cement mixture. I'd recommend leaving at least an hour for set up assuming you have several strong adults.

If the pool is left untouched for a few hours the cornstarch will separate from the water and settle at the bottom - this pool is good for one-day use only.

Put down a tarp! This is an extremely messy project. The cornstarch billows everywhere and it does not come off the ground easily. The ground protection we used was inadequate and after several sweeping and hitting our patio with a hose there is still cornstarch stuck in cervices.

Disposal is another issue. We let the cornstarch sit for a couple days in an attempt to let it dry out, but it will start to rot so you can't let this go on for too long. We then double bagged heavy duty trash bags and picked it up in clumps into the bag. The trash can was extremely heavy but luckily the city still took it away.

There you have it! Everything you wanted to know about Oobleck Pools. For the unique chance to try this yourself, come to Science Fest 5K. [edit: Science Fest 5K has passed]

 

The Science of Kindness

We talked to Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, founder of a like-minded non-profit Classes 4 Classes, about empathy and compassion. We loved what she had to say! (Scroll down for interview). You can read our interview by Classes 4 Classes here.

What is Classes 4 Classes?

The beautiful thing about our world is that there are often infinite ways to tackle a problem. While Science Delivered is, of course, science focused, our ultimate goal is to promote positive outcomes to our students. That’s why many of our programs incorporate lessons about being good citizens. Our psychology and critical-thinking courses especially are designed to help students understand that those different from them also deserve respect and compassion. But children need to hear this message again and again and in multiple ways. A task bigger than any one company!

That’s why we were so excited to learn more about the non-profit organization Classes 4 Classes. Classes 4 Classes (C4C) has an awesome yet simple mission and that is to teach children the power of kindness, and that through compassion they have the power to enact positive change. They also teach about how we are all inter-connected. Should kids be learning this at home? Yes, of course, but recent research suggests that even in many well-meaning households the ideas of fairness and compassion are treated as less important than other qualities. And there is hard science to support the rather intuitive idea that compassion can be taught! While on the face of it C4C's goals are very different Science Delivered's, we found, at the core, there is actually a lot of overlap in our missions.

 A class "Kindness Corner" listed on a C4C project page

A class "Kindness Corner" listed on a C4C project page

Kids need more than to be told to “be kind” they need chances to practice kindness and altruism. That’s where C4C comes in. Their free program is based on giving without the expectation of getting something back, a “pay it forward” model. After a classroom, say ‘Classroom A’, signs up to participate, their next step is to choose a recipient class, say ‘Classroom B’. Classroom A now takes the time to learn about ‘Classroom B’ and what this classroom needs. Once they find out what item (within reason) will help ‘Classroom B’ the most, ‘Classroom A’ chooses this as a gift and posts it online. Donors can now help fund the gift and ‘Classroom A’ gets to experience the joy of giving.

The fun part is that once ‘Classroom B’ receives a gift, they now pay it forward by choosing another class to research and pick out a gift for!

Classes 4 Classes started in Connecticut but has spread as far as Arizona and has been nationally recognized. You can read more about the organization at their website as well as news stories and accolades here, here, here and here. We talked to C4C founder Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis to find out more about her thoughts on C4C and its mission!

 

Interview

Q: We know that the mission of Classes 4 Classes is to increase empathy – what does empathy mean to you? Why is it important?
Teaching empathy is crucial because we can’t assume that our students come to school already aware of how to be empathetic towards others - they need the chance to have tangible experiences with it

Kaitlin: Empathy to me is the ability to relate to and put yourself in the position of someone else, whether they are similar to or very different from yourself. It’s the ability to understand someone else's feelings and relate to what they are feeling on a personal level.

Teaching children empathy assures that they are aware of what makes us each different, as well as what unites us as one - and being accepting of both. Teaching empathy is crucial because we can't assume that our students come to school already aware of how to be empathetic towards others  - they need the chance to have tangible experiences with it.

 

Q: How did you decide on the structure of C4C?

Kaitlin: When planning the structure of C4C, it was crucial that students would have an active role and actually be engaged in giving the gift to another class and ultimately in being kind, caring, compassionate and empathetic. I knew they had to be active in the process in order to learn these lessons. That's where the format for the individual project pages came from - a place to showcase the students' work [ed note: see here].

I also knew that funding the projects had to be crowd sourced because I didn't want any financial responsibility to fall on schools, teachers or students. I wanted to make sure that all students in all schools would be able to participate.

Lastly, I knew that it had to be a pay it 4ward model, because if the core of what we teach is giving back and connectedness (which it is) then we need to follow that model and encourage all students to give back!

 

Q: What’s one favorite story that has come out of a Classes 4 Classes event or classroom?

Kaitlin: There are so many! I think one that truly illustrates what we at C4C aim to inspire in students, is the story of two 4th grade classes who participated in C4C. The students had posted a project for another class to get iPads. Then those students did something truly amazing. They decided it wasn't enough to just wait for outside donors to fund their project. They wanted to do more! They asked their teachers if they could host a tag sale, where students who wanted to participate could bring in an item that they no longer used to sell. This was completely their idea. They spent all day on a Saturday hosting and working at their tag sale. They raised over $700 for their project! To me this illustrates exactly what C4C is working to engage students in-actively caring, being kind, compassionate and empathetic. Those students' actions illustrate all of these! I can't think of a better way to demonstrate empathy for others-than selling your own possessions to give a gift to someone else.

 
Q: What’s been your favorite part of your C4C journey?

Kaitlin: There have been so many favorite parts! I could never choose just one. It has been the journey, the daily ins and outs, the connections and spreading our mission. It's the teachers and students I've met with and interacted with. It's been watching the growth, how far we've come since February 2013. It's seeing the vision for our mission come to fruition. It's changing the way kindness and empathy are taught to students. It's all of the people and organizations who have supported and continue to support us. It's working with our incredible board on a day to day basis to spread our mission. It's been realizing that if you believe in something, in your vision for it, you can make it a reality. 

 

Q: If someone wants to support C4C how can they get involved?

Kaitlin: Anyone can get involved! Simply visit http://www.classes4classes.org and click on 'Get Involved' there are lots of ideas whether you are a parent, teacher or potential supporter. There are also downloadable documents that you can use to share our mission with others. Our supporters can support our class projects, our mission directly or both! If you have specific questions you can email: info@classes4classes.org

 

 

In the News: What if an asteroid were headed toward earth?

 Asteroid 2004 BL86 (large object) has a small moon (top, small bright object)

Asteroid 2004 BL86 (large object) has a small moon (top, small bright object)

On Monday January 26, an asteroid, 2004 BL86, came close enough to earth for us to see. To add to the excitement, this asteroid has its own moon. (NASA reports that they have found 150 asteroids with moons, or even double moons.)

Now, at 745,000 miles away, 3.1 times the distance to the moon, 2004 BL86 is not dangerously close. However, it got us curious about NASA’s Near Earth program, which closely tracks asteroids that enter Earth's "neighborhood" and can predict their path years in advance.

Perhaps some readers remember that in 2004 an asteroid named 99942 Apophis was evaluated as having a 2.7% chance of hitting earth in the year 2029. Refined measurements of it's movements showed that we were in the clear for 2029, but that a very small chance of impact remained for the year 2036. A 1 in 45,000 chance to be precise. Even with a 0.0022% chance of an asteroid hitting the earth, there was serious discussion about how to deal with this risk, which shows us that NASA takes it's job seriously. Then in 2013, it was announced that the chance of the asteroid hitting the earth in 2036 was effectively zero. But what if the risk had remained? What actions could be taken?

There have been several proposals for deflecting asteroids, and in this case the necessary deflection to keep us safe was deemed small.  One study found a “130 x 130 ft. patch with a lightweight reflective surface" would change the energy absorption of Apophis by 0.5% which would be enough it influence it's trajectory so it would certainly bypass Earth, IF the procedure was done by the year 2018.

Another report had more extensive suggestions. (A side note: This report also estimated the potential damage of the asteroid hitting earth at 400 billion and the cost of a deflection mission at 400 million. It suggested the course of action be taken based on financial concerns and ignored the loss of human life and suffering (ahem)).

The first two suggestions of this proposal would need to be accomplished prior to the year 2029. This is because the year 2029 is where the 0.0022% danger comes from. We knew that in this year the asteroid would come relatively close to us and if asteroid came at exactly 18,893 miles from the earth it would fly through a "gravitational keyhole" which would alter its trajectory enough to set it on a course where it would hit the planet. To miss the keyhole, the asteroid would only need to be deflected about a mile. However, if it were to pass through the keyhole, it would be to be deflected 5000 miles. The latter obviously a much harder task, and would perhaps (but probably not) be impossible.

Apophis was discovered in 2004. Image credit: UH/IA

The first proposed method was “kinetic deflection” which would consist of hitting the asteroid with a large spacecraft to knock into a slightly new trajectory. That's it. Oh, of course there are angles, masses and speeds to work out but the basic concept is pretty simple.

The second method promoted in this report for pre-2029 use is the “gravitational tractor” which is much like what it sounds. Remember, all masses in space create a gravitational pull which effects other nearby masses. Here a rocket-propelled vehicle would essentially tow the asteroid onto a safer orbit through it's gravitational pull.

If the asteroid entered the keyhole in 2029, however, and was scheduled to hit earth, neither of the above methods would be powerful enough to keep us safe. In this case a more extreme courses of action would be needed such as "buried bombs" or nuclear weapons detonated near the planet. These are the methods NASA considers most viable for moving asteroids off course. However, bombs (as well as the kinetic deflection method) would send smaller pieces of the asteroid into orbit in an uncontrolled (by us) manner, and some of these could very well end up landing on Earth and still cause substantial destruction.

Other proposals have also floated around such using a laser or giant mirror to "boil" off part of the asteroid.

Luckily, Earth seems safe for quite a while. Jupiter, on the other hand, with its massive size and gravitational pull, has taken the hit from several asteroids and comets. We can be grateful to this large planet as it is thought to be, quite literally, taking hits for us.  

Bill Nye has a nice simple video explaining these concepts if you'd like to check it out. If any of our readers have expertise in this area we'd love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading. Check out our facebook page for daily science news from around the web, and check back here for more original content and news about our company.

In the News: How are electric eels like Tasers?

In a recent Science article, the mechanism electric eels use to incapacitate their prey was found to work via a mechanism surprisingly similar to Tasers.

First, some background. The electric eel is not a true eel, but an electric fish. (Eel themselves are a type of fish, but the electric eel is a different type of fish. Confusing! One difference that true eels have dorsal fins and electric eels do not).

A large portion of the electric eel's body is made of electric organs which contain flat disk-shaped cells called electrocytes. As their name suggest, these cells each produce a small voltage, about one-tenth of a volt. In total however, the electric organs can produce up to 600 V in certain species. The ability to discharge electrical shocks is the basis for their prey-hunting capabilities.

When the electric eel has its prey in range, it discharges a high-frequency volley of electric shocks. Do you imagine a animal jerking around from all the electricity? Don't! Turns out that the discharge frequency completely immobilizes the animal. Basically, the pulses come fast enough that they contract all the muscles in the prey's body, so it remains completely still, and the electric eel can attack.  This is how Tasers work! However, the Tasers deliver about 19 pulses per second, while the electric eels discharge around 400 per second.

But how does the electric eel locate its food in the first place? It turns out that the discharge is under fine control. If the eel wants to locate potential near-by but hidden prey, it lets off two pulses, or doublets, that cause the prey animal to "jerk" or "jump". Now the hiding place of the prey animal has been compromised, and the electric eel can employ its high frequency discharge to attack.

To summarize: To locate hiding prey, the electric eel lets off two pulses that make the prey "jump." To immobilize said prey, the electric eel lets off a high frequency volley of electric shocks and then eats the still, floating, fish.

This work comes out of Vanderbilt from a fantastic researcher named Ken Catania (although at the time of this posting his website has not been updated to reflect the electric eel publication). I've had the honor of hearing him speak and his work is truly an original and creative exploration of animal behavior.

If you want to know more, this research has been reported all over the internet. Check out this video from Slate, or these reports from the NYT, BBC or National Geographic. You can find a link to the original research here, (click on the Science link on the right) but you need a Science subscription to access it.

 

 

501c3 Official!

Science Delivered is happy to announce that it has received its 501c3 status! This means we are a public charity and all contributions to our company are tax deductible.

We will give credit where credit is due and say that the IRS was actually quite speedy, we received the status less than a month after filing! No doubt this was helped by Nonprofit Elite, a small company that helps nonprofits file for 501c3 status. They were efficient and easy to work with and had reasonable prices.

We are so happy to be official and able to concentrate less on paperwork and more on our mission!

 

 

Blog Post Number One: An Overview

Blog Post Number One – An Overview

For Science Delivered’s first blog post, I wanted to do something a little different than I imagine subsequent blog posts will be. This post is an introduction to myself and the company – you can find a lot this information throughout the website, but for potential supporters and collaborators  interested in more detail, please look no further!

Inception

The idea for Science Delivered was conceived while training for my Ph.D. I realized how enjoyable outreach was and found I had a knack for simplifying information for younger children. I also have always been passionate about social issues. Eventually, in August 2014, I made the tough decision to leave research (which I do love) to create this company. At the time of writing this post, Science Delivered, located in San Diego, is in its earliest stages and I am so excited to see what the future has to bring.

So what is Science Delivered?

Science Delivered is a mobile science lab that provides ‘science classes’ to elementary school students. Our programs can be thought of as in-school field trips. We offer about ten different classes, most of which can be modified for different ages (even adults enjoy most of our activities :) ). We focus on optimizing fun and learning.

Benefits of science education

There is nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes from understanding a “hard” concept. Or understanding the principles behind an object that you use everyday.  All kids have seen batteries, but how many of them can explain what they actually do? How many kids know why it is windy by the sea? But kids can understand these concepts!

We want to teach kids things they are excited to tell their parents at dinner.

We want to help kids to understand the world they live in.

We want our students to feel confident and good and smart, and to be excited to learn more.

There is a saying about education, ‘The rich get richer’. This means, if you know a little about a concept, it is much, much easier to learn a lot about it than if you start from nothing. To continue the metaphor, we want to start our students a savings account. The bits of knowledge we give them can grow and flourish over time. And we do this by…

…making our lessons sticky

Not literally (expect where we make slime with seeds). But I still remember the biology lesson a decade ago where my professor walked around the lecture hall with dental floss to show us the scale of DNA is a cell. That image stuck in my head and popped up whenever I thought of DNA. Hopefully, a decade or two from now, our students will sit in their dorms rooms saying, ‘I remember when that science lady showed us a real sheep brain’.

We embrace - and then go beyond - ‘classic science'

Do any students do the classic volcano science experiment anymore? They should – because it’s a classic for a reason! That being said, we expand beyond what people might think of when they hear ‘science.’ We have a program, ‘Health and the Human Body’ where students learn why they love sugar so much and just how much sugar is in that Mountain Dew from the vending machine. We teach about psychology – we show how easy it can be to ‘implant false memories’ (which happens all the time with eye witness identification) and other counter-intuitive aspects of the mind. Such instruction can help build empathy and even help students if they encounter their own mental health struggles. Finally, we have a critical thinking class, as the basis of science is critical thinking. Here students look at information on the news and internet to help them figure out when to ‘believe what they read’!

Diversity

Let’s be straight – we have made wonderful terrific advances in our country, but there is still this idea of ‘science for boys’. It starts young. When I was looking for bedding for my now nine-month old son, everything related to science and technology was ‘boy colored’, rocket ships, trains, space, even animals!

Many, many studies have shown that if you tell girls that ‘girls are bad at math', and then give them a math test, they actually have lower scores than girls not given that information.  The same thing goes for telling children that their ethnicity underperforms in a subject. Yet children get these destructive messages all too often. Children are perceptive, and while many of the negative messages might be subtle, they are constant.

Science Delivered understands that representation and encouragement matter and we aim to do our part in counter-acting negative societal messages. We aim to spend time at schools where kids have fewer educational opportunities and also will incorporate a short science history activity, called Beyond Einstein, into most programs. Here students will learn about the diverse group of people who have contributed to our STEM knowledge base.

 

Some principles we use in devising our programs:

~ Activities will be safe, fun and instructive.

~ Students will learn a new word or two, but we will never overwhelm with jargon.

~ Programs are amenable to student and teacher feedback.

~ Activities in any particular program will tie into a central scientific principle.

~ Programs are scaled to be age appropriate.

~ Programs can be modified to fit into certain curricula.

 

Thank you for reading! If you are interested in a visit from Science Delivered, please e-mail omullins@science-delivered.org (don't forget the dash!). If you are interested in providing support please go here.