Friday, March 24, 2017

The Science of Science Fiction

The Science of Science Fiction
by Matthew Brenden Wood; illus by Tom Casteel
128 pages; ages 12 - 15
Nomad Press, 2016

I grew up on Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Heinlein and Star Trek. In the intervening years I have seen: flip phones (Star Trek communicators), voice-activated software, jet packs, robots, and more.

So I loved the timeline at the beginning of this book - a date where an idea was introduced in a sci-fi story, followed by a date when that technology was first used. For example, in 1870 Jules Verne wrote about Captain Nemo piloting an electric sub in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In 1954 the first nuclear sub, appropriately named USS Nautilus, was launched.

Topics in this book include cloning ancient creatures (Jurassic Park, anyone?) robots, androids, artificial intelligence, life on Mars, aliens, faster-than-light travel, and time travel. Text is augmented with cartoons, short sidebars, fast facts, and questions.

What I really like are the hands-on investigations. You can extract your own DNA, calculate the likelihood of intelligent life in the universe, and play around with centripetal force. My favorite, though, is measuring the speed of light using a microwave, a bar of chocolate, a ruler, and a calculator. Who can resist an experiment that involves chocolate?

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy provided by publisher.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club - Making Oobleck

A couple weeks ago I posted a review of  Charlotte the Scientist is Squished,  - so I thought it would be fun to do some experiments using the scientific method. The "Scientific method" is an outline (or flowchart) that describes how scientists develop hypothesis, test their ideas, and come to conclusions.

Our experiment: making Oobleck. All you need is water and a box of cornstarch. Warning: do not dispose of cornstarch experiments down your sink; they could clog your drain. Wrap them up and throw them away.

Question: What happens if I mix cornstarch in water?
Hypothesis: If I make it thick enough, it will probably be gluey.
Experiment: Start with 1/2 cup water and 3/4 to 1 cup cornstarch. Pour the water into a bowl, and then add the cornstarch. Stir well.
Observe and record:
  • What does it feel like? 
  • Can it stretch? Bounce? 
  • Can it pour? 
  • Is it solid? 
  • What happens if you pour it onto a cookie sheet and hit it with a hammer?
  •  What happens if you put it into the refrigerator? 
  • What happens if you add more cornstarch? More water? 
  • What if you divide it in half and leave one part out in the air and another part inside a ziplock bag? 
  • How long does it last? 
  • Does it get moldy?
Analyze: This is where you draw some conclusions about this non-Newtonian  fluid that acts liquid when you gently put your hands into it, but acts solid when you squeeze or hit it.
Share Results: Scientists write articles. You could take a photo of your oobleck and write a brief note about it and give it to a friend.

You can find more things to do with oobleck here. Find out more about non-Newtonian fluids here.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Beastly Brains

Beastly Brains
by Nancy Castaldo
160 pages; ages 12 & up
HMH, 2017

Do animals think? Solve problems? Do math? Understand the concept of fairness?

You bet, says Nancy Castaldo, and she offers up a wealth of examples shoeing how animals think, talk, and feel. In one chapter she describes and experiment in which scientists gave monkeys tokens that they could use to buy treats. The monkeys quickly learned to take advantage of "sales" (when they could get more than the usual item for the same cost). They also stole tokens from others.

Other scientists wanted to know whether dogs feel jealousy. So they tested pairs of dogs. One was asked to "shake" without any reward. Then another dog joined them and when it "shook" paws it was given a treat. Do you think the first dog kept giving her paw when asked to "shake"? No! She went on strike! Unfair!

Castaldo has filled this volume with stories that will amuse you, make you think, and maybe even inspire you to test your own pet's intelligence. There is a wonderful section at the back ("Inquiring Minds Want to Know") that outlines how you can do your own animal intelligence studies. There are also tons of other resources: places where your pets can get involved in studies, organizations that advocate for animals, videos and books, plus a glossary and source notes.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy provided by publisher.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ changing seasons

What a difference a week makes. Only seven days ago things were bright and sunny. But early Tuesday morning this week we had white flakes falling out of the sky at a furious rate. Could be it's just the Ides of March. More likely it's the confluence of a storm moving north hitting a low pressure coming southeast out of Canada - and BOOM - a blizzard.

What changes happened in your area in the past seven days?