Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Add a little science to your new year!

Happy (almost) New Year's, everyone! While you're making your New Year's resolutions, why not plan to add a little science to your life in 2009? You could enroll in that geology class you've always wanted to take (oh, wait, that's one of *my* goals), read a science journal, or keep up with a nature program on television. Or, you could try one of these ideas we talked about in 2008:

**Collect and examine seashells

**Watch some movies with science themes

**Study the stars

**Collect science stamps

**Write science poetry

**Visit a science-based website

**Get creative by making 2-D and 3-D snowflakes online or learn about the scientific benefits of origami

**Keep a science journal

**Take a hike

**Clean your mental closet

**Take a field trip through the produce section of your local farmer's market or grocery store

**Write some science fiction

**Enjoy some roadside geology or

**Study the clouds

And don't forget, small additions to your life can have a profound impact, like my boys and their flying potato!

Celebrate safely tonight! See you in 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Collecting science stamps

If you come to our house and take a look at the walls, you'll notice something interesting. I collect and frame stamps. Not just any stamps, of course. I'm drawn to U.S. science stamps. My biggest collection is space-themed. I have these 2000 Hubble telescope images accompanied by a poster, this awesome 1997 Mars Pathfinder stamp, and this 1994 Moon Landing 25th Anniversary Sheet, among others.

I'm also fond of a current annual stamp series known as Nature of America, which profiles different U.S. ecosystems. The USPS has issued ten in this series so far, including stamps depicting the Sonoran Desert, the Great Plains Prairie, and the Pacific Coral Reef.

Why collect science stamps? It's a fun and inexpensive hobby that's easy to share with children. Almost any topic or interest can be found on a stamp. For example ...

Like cats? Check out Rhea's Topical Cats Collection.

Dinosaurs? Start with these 1989 dinosaur stamps.

Minerals? Philatelic Mineralogy has images of "Gem, Rock, and Mineral Postage Stamps From Around the World," including pages dedicated to opals, diamonds, and agate (and so much more!).

If you're new to collecting stamps, visit the American Philatelic Society to Learn About Stamps and pick up some Fun Facts.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Website of the Week: TryScience

A tip of the hat goes to my friend Cricket B for pointing me toward this week's website, TryScience. This site primarily acts as a "gateway to experience the excitement of contemporary science and technology [by interacting with over 400] science and technology centers worldwide." You can view a number of Live Cams!, including the seascape cam at the Carnegie Science Center and the butterfly cam at the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science. There's information to help you plan your next Field Trip to a science center along with Experiements for you to try at home.

Unfortunately, some of the links are outdated and the site is rather graphic-intense, requiring plug-ins for several activities. Nonetheless, TryScience is a great starting point if you want to locate and get a feel for the science centers near you. There's also an option on the website to view it in different languages, including French, Chinese, and Portuguese.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday greetings to the Earth and beyond!

We're getting ready for Christmas here at Mama Joules and some of our close friends are celebrating Hanukkah. At our house, it's a wonderful time of preparation and joy. So, imagine if you were stuck 220 miles above the Earth at the International Space Station. That's the situation of Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke and Flight Engineers Sandra Magnus and Yury Lonchakov. So, NASA has created a special webpage so that we can send holiday greetings to the crew. Visit NASA Postcards to the International Space Station, pick from one of four designs, and send your message into space! (To learn more about the space station, check out What is the International Space Station?).

The International Space Station, taken from the Space Shuttle Discovery on Oct. 25, 2007
Photo credit: NASA

Happy Holidays to all!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The joy of paper snowflakes

My boys and I are wishing it would snow in our little corner of the world, but no such luck. While the rest of the U.S. has been blanketed in white, we are soggy instead of icy. So, we decided to make some paper snowflakes this week-end.

It's been a long time since I've made a paper snowflake. My first attempts were round instead of six-sided. But I soon got the hang of it, thanks in part to Make-a-Flake. Make-a-Flake shows you how to fold your paper into the right shape to make a six-sided snowflake, and then allows you to make practice cuts online. You can undo and redo your cuts until you get the shape you like, and you can post your finished flake in the online gallery. My younger son and I worked together to make the one shown above. has a different take on creating online snowflakes. When you visit Zefrank's Create Your Own Snowflakes, you can layer simple shapes and rotate them in 2 or 3 dimensions to create a snowflake effect.

We've come a long way since scissors and paper, but there's still nothing like cutting out your own paper snowflakes and hanging them in the window. If you're looking for inspiration, check out the wonderful collection of Wilson Bentley's snowflake photography in NOAA's Photo Library (search for "snowflake"). These photographs were taken by Wilson in 1902 in Jericho, Vermont.

Photo credit: National Weather Service

P.S. [UPDATE:1/9/09] Thanks to a tip from Andy's Parties, I found another on-line snowflake making site,
Rooney Design's Snowflake Factory
. Very fun!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Website of the Week:

This week's website is for the parents. Check out, the parenting blog at Wired. These blog entries are written by various geek-dads and moms -- fellow science-loving parents who enjoy their Roombas (those cool little robot vacuum cleaners), Christmas-themed LEGO®s, bizarre science news (students launching teddy bears into space!), and wonder how many helium balloons it would take to carry away a child (Answer: We can all breathe easier -- according to this post it would take over 1,000 filled balloons to lift the average two-year-old).

If you're still pondering your holiday shopping list, check out GeekDad's Holiday Gift Guides, including recommendations for Toys for Dads & Kids to Share, Kids' Books & Activities, and even gifts for GeekMoms!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Creative use of errors

Today, I was browsing the web and came upon this entry in The Responsible Marketing Blog about 404 "page not found" errors. 404 error pages pop up when you are trying to find a webpage and it's been moved or maybe you typed in the address wrong and the page can't be found on the server. I'll admit, I've never given these error messages any thought. Until now.

Did you know that you can customize the error pages that people find on your website? Last year, Smashing Magazine ran a contest to find the most creative 404 error pages out there. People came up with all sorts of responses and Smashing Magazine displayed some of them in their Design Showcase called 404 Error Pages: Reloaded. Some of the pages are funny, some use poetry to let you know that you are lost, and still others sympathize with your plight.

What I like best about creative 404 error pages is that they allow the computer-savvy to reach out to the computer-phobic and help them feel more comfortable with web surfing. This is great because scientific discovery -- really, any time we try something new -- is all about trial and error. We're all going to make errors. But if the "teachers" use a little creativity and kindness, the "students" will learn that making mistakes can be a fun and useful learning experience.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Engineer Your Life™: a website for female high school students

A tip of the hat to Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog for pointing me toward Engineer Your Life™, "a guide to engineering for high school girls." As you might remember from some of my earlier posts -- like this one on women and engineering -- I think it's so important for girls to have female mentors and role models in the sciences, particularly in male-dominated fields like engineering.

At Engineer Your Life™, you can Meet Inspiring Women who are making a difference in the field of engineering, read in-depth profiles of various engineering disciplines (including the types of projects you might work on and your likely salary range) in fields like aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, and (my personal favorite!) environmental engineering. You can even download a list of recommended high school coursework and tips for researching engineering schools. Enjoy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Website of the Week: Dive and Discover™

Do you ever wonder what lives on the ocean floor? In many ways, this "world" is as uncharted and mysterious as outer space, with its deep inky blackness, severe cold, and intense atmospheric pressure. This week's website, Dive and Discover™: Expeditions to the Seafloor, maintained by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, gives you a sneak peek into this weird world.

You can read about 12 different expeditions to the ocean floor (including the Indian Ocean, Galápagos Islands, and Antarctica), learn the difference between the Arctic and the Antartic at Comparing the Poles, discover The Curious Names of Deep-Sea Features (like Salty Dawg, Godzilla, and Road Runner, among others!), and look at photographs of unusual creatures like the common but relatively unknown salps, with their crystal-clear bodies. There's also a section with related classroom activities for teens in grades 8-12.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Name NASA's next Mars Rover!

My friend CricketB shared this great news with me that she found online:

Disney/Pixar is currently running a contest for children in grades K-12 in the U.S. (ages 5 -18) to Name NASA's Next Mars Rover! This new rover is scheduled to launch in 2011 and (hopefully!) will land the following year. You can visit NASA to Learn About the Rover, including its robotic arm, legs, laser, and wheels. Be sure to read the Quick Facts (this is a .pdf file) to discover tidbits like these:

* The rover's laser can turn rocks into a cloud of vapor.
* The rover may be the size of a small SUV, but it weighs nearly 2000 pounds!
* The rover looks just a little bit like WALL-E.

Image credit: NASA

If you win the grand prize, you not only win a trip to both the Jet Propulsion Laboratory AND Disneyland, you also get a bunch of WALL-E stuff including a robot! Nine finalists and thirty semi-finalists will also win some cool WALL-E gear, so if you are a fan of the movie, you should definitely enter. (My older son was excited that we found Disney/Pixar's WALL-E online games).

The contest has three grade level categories (K-3, 4-7, 8-12) and you have to write a short essay along with your suggested name. There are certain restrictions on the names you can suggest (no copyrighted names, no names of anyone living, no names used on other space missions), so read the rules carefully. You also have to get your parent or guardian's permission to enter. The contest deadline is January 25, 2009, so start writing! (Gee, I wish I could enter!!)

Monday, December 8, 2008

The scientific benefits of origami

I picked up this interesting tidbit today from ScienceDaily: Studying origami, the ancient Japanese art of folding paper into shapes like birds and bugs, can improve your understanding of math. In ScienceDaily's The Science of Origami, Dr. Robert Lang is quoted as saying that the process used to create these intricate folded designs has made its way into scientific disciplines like medicine, aerospace design, and automotive engineering.

Dr. Lang has his own website with pages devoted to his art and the intersection of origami and math. His gallery of origami creations contains many fascinating specimens, including a 54 uniform-edge polypolyhedron. But to me, the most interesting are those folded from a single sheet of paper. Lang's page of crease patterns shows the detailed and complex folds necessary to create shapes like hermit crabs and garden spiders alongside the finished product.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Website of the Week: Astronomy Picture of the Day

Itinerant Cryptographer here, filling in for a tired Mama Joules. Monday, the sky had a real treat for anyone who looked up at it--the crescent moon, Jupiter, and Venus were all close together in the sky. In some places, the moon passed in front of Venus, blocking it from view for awhile.

Did you miss seeing this? Well, this week's website of the week has a lovely photo of that, as well as many other things you wish you'd seen in the night sky. Check out NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day, a source of some amazing, beautiful, and interesting pictures, each with commentary by an astronomer. Don't miss the video footage of the fireball in the sky from Canada!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Silly quiz: Do you think like a scientist?

So, maybe you’re reading this blog and you’re wondering, do I think like a scientist? Do I parent like a scientist? Here’s one (highly informal and irreverent) survey to help you decide:

1. When a bug lands in your soda, do you:

  1. Throw the can away.
  2. Think to yourself, “Wow, I need to look that up in my insect identification book!”

2. Your daughter comes into the house covered in dirt. Do you:

  1. Order her to take off her shoes and head to the nearest bathtub.
  2. Have her collect a sample of soil from the floor and rub it between her fingers to check the texture.

3. The news channel warns of an impending tornado. Do you:

  1. Go to the basement or an interior room.
  2. Grab your camera and head outside.

4. You turn your back for five minutes and your 3-year-old son has mixed flour, cinnamon, Kool-Aid, and something else into an unidentifiable goo. He is now holding the bowl in one hand and smearing this mixture on the walls with the other. Do you:

  1. Immediately throw the bowl in the trash.
  2. Let him test his hypothesis that the goo will stick to the walls before you take his bowl away.

5. You are reading this survey and imagining these scenarios actually taking place. Do you:

  1. Feel an immense sense of relief that this isn’t happening at your house.
  2. Wish the survey was longer so you’d have more ideas to try. ;-)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Poo poo paper

Looking for a creative, eco-friendly gift for the holidays? Head on over to The Great Elephant Poo Poo Paper Company Limited™ and check out their online (oh, I can hardly type this!) Poo-tique™. They carry a range of items -- from journals to stationery -- made from this uniquely recycled product.

How is poo poo paper made? According to the company, elephant dung is collected from conservation parks and washed to remove the excrement. The remaining fibers (things like left-over grasses and bamboo) are boiled to sanitize them. This material is then mixed with other fibrous materials; the resulting mixture is placed onto trays and dries into paper. You can read the full story at Turning Poo to Paper, along with Elephant Facts and a Brief Elephant History.

The company claims that the product has no smell, which is the first thing my family wanted to verify as soon as I opened my package of paper. Interestingly enough, poo poo paper really doesn't smell. However, since the paper is quite lumpy and fibrous, the knowledge of where it comes from does creep into your mind as you look at it. I found myself examining some of the more unique fibers -- could that be a worm? a bug? So poo poo paper may not be for everyone. In fact, Itinerant cryptographer wouldn't come near it!

(Many thanks to LD for such a unique birthday present!)