Sunday, November 3, 2013

life goal accomplished: running across a pool of oobleck!

Yesterday, I crossed one off the bucket list.  As a middle school science teacher, I am a big fan of cornstarch (see my previous posts on making your own pool of cornstarch and putting oobleck on a speaker).  I love it mostly because cornstarch can be used to explore a number of topics in science, and it is adaptable to all ages, highly engaging, and easy to clean up!

Yesterday, at Discovery Days as part of the Bay Area Science Festival - I had my own chance to run across a pool of oobleck!

UPDATE:  In January 2014, Hong Leong Bank puts my accomplishment to shame with their 8,000 liters (over 2100 gallons) of non-newtonian fluid in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! You can watch people running, jumping and even BIKING on it!

And, remember, this is an advertisement for A BANK?!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

slow motion paint on a speaker

OK, this is cool.  Tied with oobleck, of course.

More importantly, I need to watch these Slow Mo Guys more!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

chicken head tracking

There few things I enjoy more than chicken head tracking. Check out this new Mercedes-Benz commercial!  Apparently, the video is highlighting the The Magic Body Control system which combines the "advantages of the Active Body Control (ABC, which is an active suspension system) with the newly-developed Road Surface Scan function, which is a stereo camera that scans the road ahead and prepares the car's suspension for uneven surfaces."  (If you are interested in the car-related stuff, you can read more here.)  But, on to chickens... 

Here's perhaps the most "famous" chicken-head tracking video:

Here's a post on npr where Krulwich ponders this same topic.  I tried to find some scientific sources to explain why this happens, the closest I found was an article entitled "How some birds keep their eyes on the prize" (which was eventually published) explaining the "aerodynamic trick [which] enables a bird to attain stabilized vision beneficial for the inspection of the environment."

Apparently, NASA originally did research on the vestibular sensory system of owls, back when they were looking at the effects of space travel on humans.  As this post does a good job explaining,
The vestibular system, located in the inner ear, is used by many vertebrates to maintain their sense of balance. It is comprised of three semi-circular canals that contain small "rocks", properly known as otoliths. Together, they provide information to the brain about the movement and location of one's head and body in space. 
It works like this: the three semicircular canals sense rotational movements and the otoliths sense linear accelerations. This information is integrated by the brain and used to help control eye movements so we don't become dizzy and to help our postural muscles keep us upright. 
So, humans participate in head-tracking, too, but birds (and some other animals) are just ridiculously good at it.  (The aforementioned post also includes an owl-head tracking video, compliments of this NASA research.)  You can read WAY more about the inner ear and your vestibular system on this NASA page.

Finally, according to some sources, the chicken head tracking commercials are not all that original.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

meet the Algaculture Symbiosis Suit - or algae helmet!

Last year, artists Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta (known as Burton Nitta) debuted the Algaculture Symbiosis Suit outside the Victoria and Albert Museum. There, an opera singer wore the suit and sang to the crowd, generating enough new algae populations during her performance that audience members were treated to a post-show snack.  According to a video clip, the "composition of the song and the singer's vocal technique are redesigned to specifically produce algae and enrich its taste. To do this, the composer and singer use the new science of sonic enhancement of food where different pitches and frequencies make food taste either bitter or sweet."

But this is not just for opera singers.  You, too, could wear an algae helmet!

A series of tubes, placed in front of the mouth, capture carbon dioxide and feed it to a constantly-growing population of suit-embedded algae. But algae needs sunlight to grow, right? Easy, the wearer just needs to sit by a window or go outside. (source)

Burton Nitta call their creation Algaculture, and describes it as designing a "new symbiotic relationship between humans and algae" in which we become semi-photosynthetic! You can read more here or on their website where you can scroll down to see more pictures and an even creepier video.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

what does The Fox say?

It's been one week since this video was posted and has become quite the meme at our middle school.  This tune is one of a string of wacky videos made by Ykvis (brothers Vegard and Bård Ylvisåker) for their late night comedy show.  The tune is catchy and fun, and the lyrics are hilarious!

My favorite part is the flurry of media that has been created around what the fox actually DOES say.  (Wired, Huffington Post (inclluding its ridiculous comedic remix), and a fabulous article by Popular Science)
In Norway, where Ylvis is from, there are two species of fox: the arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) and the red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Here in the States, we have a few others, like the gray fox and the kit fox. All species of fox have a pretty wide variety of vocalizations, just as dogs and cats do. It's simple to reduce, say, a dog's vocalizations to "bark," but as any owner knows, dogs can yelp, whine, howl, growl, and make all kinds of other sounds. Foxes aren't quite as varied in their vocalizations as dogs, but they're still capable of making lots of different sounds. [PopSci]

But, in reality, most of us are happy to hypothesize along with Ylvis.

“A-hee-ahee ha-hee”

Saturday, June 29, 2013

cool? gross? check out what's in an average cup of coffee

Here's a fascinating little video from Wired magazine.  While most of us know that a cup of coffee is about 98% water... but do you know anything about the other 2%?

I found this video on and the post has other coffee-related links at the bottom of the page.  It lead me to this other coffee-related gem, "Everything You Wanted to Know About Coffee in Three Minutes" -who knew?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Top 10 new species of 2013

Scientists around the world discover about 18,000 new species every year.  V Sauce highlights the "Top 10" for us!

Check out this link for a photo gallery of these new species.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Oobleck on a Speaker!

For a science fair project, one student is exploring oobleck on a speaker.  This have been something I've been interested in for awhile (see previous post on oobleck).  We were pretty excited that first day when we saw it begin to dance!

The song that worked best this first time around? All Around the World by Justin Bieber. Who knew?

However, the oobleck's movements did not quite have the alien qualities that make oobleck on a speaker so compelling.  Especially compared to this Sonos subwoofer commercial...

We were determined to learn more.

One of my students puzzled over this, trying to understand why the cornstarch "worked" some times and not others. And why it seemed to work on my little speakers, but not the large subwoofer he brought from home.  Finally, he decided that it had to do with the frequency. (He was right.)

This student went on to have the brilliant idea to look up subwoofer test videos on YouTube.  This YouTube video (1) was pretty good, and YouTube video (2) seem to do the trick, but we finally found YouTube video (3) - and it was awesome!  We decided that a frequency near 25 - 45 Hz is best.  Lower or higher than that, the cornstarch just sort of lays there and vibrates....

We tried all sorts of dubstep and heavy bass, but only some songs worked.

For Cornstarch - Take Two, we highlighted Drop It Low by Ester Dean ft. Chris Brown.

This never gets old.  I could seriously watch it all day!

UPDATE 4-21-13: Based on a tip* we received, we tried it again, adding a few drops of FOOD COLORING to the mix before we played the music.  Wonderful!

*Finally, here is the other oobleck-related blog post which was shared with me (hence the "tip").  Image shared from that post >>

Saturday, January 12, 2013

close-up of a virus infecting a bacterium

In an article published on Jan 10, 2013 online in Science Express, we can see an incredible animation showing the T7 virus as it infects an E. coli bacterium.  This process has been visualized for the first time by Ian Molineux, professor of biology at The University of Texas at Austin and his colleagues.  
At the preferred infection site, the virus goes through a major change in structure in which it ejects some of its proteins through the bacterium's cell membrane, creating a path for the virus's genetic material to enter the host.  
After the viral DNA has been ejected, the protein path collapses and the infected cell membrane reseals.  
"Although many of these details are specific to T7," said Molineux, "the overall process completely changes our understanding of how a virus infects a cell." (Source)

Check out the animation - it's almost hard to imagine it is "real" and not purely computer animation!

The researchers used a combination of genetics and cryo-electron tomography to image the infection process. Cryo-electron tomography is a process similar to a CT scan, but it is scaled to study objects with a diameter a thousandth the thickness of a human hair." (Same source)

Cryo-electron tomography is a new-ish form of microscopy that images very small items at very low temperatures (think liquid-nitrogen cold, or 63 K to 77.2 K, or -346° to -320.44°F!) in their "natural" environment.   

An article in Nature supplies the following image:

I don't claim to totally understand this, but a sample of a suspension of cells is put in a grid, then the grid + cells are frozen in liquid ethane (which has been cooled with liquid nitrogen).  Then the whole thing imaged by an electron microscope at a variety of angles.  These tilted images are then converted to a 3D image (tomogram).  

Here's another informative link if you are interested in reading more.  And if you are really interested, you should check out this (2007) NIH article entitled, Electron Tomography of Viruses.  And, my favorite so far, a summary of a (2011) study using cryo-electron tomography to image the Marburg & Ebola viruses!"

Happy polio-free anniversary, India!

January 13 will mark two years since a child was paralyzed by wild poliovirus in India, a country once considered the most complex challenge to global polio eradication. In 2012, only three countries (Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan) remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988.

What an incredible world-wide collaborative accomplishment!