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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year! 2013 was great year - full of wonder and surprises!  Now, it is time to look forward to see what 2014 has in store for us. From new comets to hybrid eclipses to new spacecraft, 2013 looks like it is going to be a great year for science. Here at the Science Wondershop, we thought we would help get you started by giving you some dates and events that you might want to keep on your calendar. You probably can’t do it all, but we are sure that you will find something on the list that you and your children might find interesting.

January 4: Earth at Perihelion
January 2: National Science Fiction Day (Isaac Asimov’s Birthday)
January 3: Quadrantids Meteor Shower
January 5: National Bird Day
January 15-18: The Association for Science Teacher Education International Conference (San Antonio, TX)
January 16: Full Wolf Moon (also known as the Old Moon) This is also the Micro moon (smallest moon of the year)
January 20: Penguin Awareness Day

FEBRUARY (National Hearth Month)
February 2: Groundhog Day
February 12: Darwin Day
February 13–17: The American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting (Chicago, IL)
February 15: Full Snow Moon (also know as the Full Hunger Moon) 

February 16-22: National Engineers Week
February 27: International Polar Bear Day

MARCH (National Nutrition Month)
March 9-15: National Bubble Week
March 10-16: Brain Awareness Week
March 14: Pi Day
March 16: Full Worm Moon (also known as Full Crow Moon or Full Crust Moon)
March 20: International Earth Day
March 20: Vernal Equinox
March 22: World Water Day
March 27: Comet Holmes passes Earth
March 30-April 2: National Association for Research in Science Teaching National Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)

APRIL (Earth Month)
April 7: World Health Day
April 3-6: National Science Teachers Association National Conference (Boston, MA)
April 12: Yuri's Night 
April 13-19: National Environmental Education (EE) Week
April 15: Full Pink Moon (also known as Full Sprouting Grass Moon, Egg Moon, or Fish Moon)  Total lunar eclipse
April 22-23: Lyrids Meteor Shower
April 22: Earth Day (US)
April 25: National DNA Day
April 26-27: USA Science and Engineering Festival (Washington, DC)
April 29: Annular Solar Eclipse

MAY (Clean Air Month)
May 4-7: Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower

May 10: Saturn makes its closest approach to Earth (rings and moons visible with a telescope)
May 10: National Astronomy Day
May 10-11: International Migratory Bird Day 

May 14: Full Flower Moon (also known as Full Corn Planting Moon and Milk Moon)

May 14-17: National Science Teachers Association STEM Forum (New Orleans, LA)

May 22: International Day for Biological Diversity
May 24: 209P/LINEAR Meteor Shower (possibly a new meteor shower)
May 28-June 1: World Science Festival

JUNE (Home Safety Month)
June 5: World Environment Day
June 8: World Oceans Day
June 13: Full Strawberry Moon
June 21: Summer Solstice

JULY (UV Safety Month)
July 3: Earth at Aphelion
July 12: Full Buck Moon (also known as Full Thunder Moon or Hay Moon)
July 28: Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower

AUGUST (Children Eye Health and Safety Month)
August 10: Full Sturgeon Moon (also known as the Full Green Corn Moon and Grain Moon)  Supermoon (year's largest full moon)

August 12-13: Perseids Meteor Shower

September 9: Full Harvest Moon (also known as the Full Corn Moon)
September 23: Autumnal Equinox
September 29: World Heart Day 
September 30-October 3: IdeaFestival

OCTOBER (National Energy Awareness Month)
October 4-10: World Space Week 
October 6: International Observe the Moon Night
October 6-12: National Metric Week
October 7-13: World Rainforest Week
October 8-9: Draconids Meteor Shower
October 8: Hunter's Full Moon (also know as the Full Blood Moon) Total lunar eclipse

October 12–18: Earth Science Week 
October 19: Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) makes its closest approach to Mars
October 19-25: National Chemistry Week
October 21-22: Orionids Meteor Shower
October 23: National Mole Day 
October 23: Partial Solar Eclipse

NOVEMBER (National Healthy Skin Month)  
November 1-3: World Championship Punkin Chunkin 
November 6: Full Beaver Moon (also known as the Full Frosty Moon) 
November 17-18: Leonid Meteor Shower
November 19: Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Day

December 6: Long Nights' Full Moon 
December 7-13: National Handwashing Awareness Week
December 10: Nobel Prize Ceremony (Stockholm Concert Hall, Sweden)
December 13-14: Geminids Meteor Shower
December 21: Winter Solstice
December 30: National Bicarbonate of Soda Day

These are just a few of the exciting science events going on this year. As we discover more, we will be sure to let you know here or on the Wondershop Facebook Page (

Friday, March 1, 2013

Celebrate National Read Across America Day With Oobleck

Dr. Seuss is considered by many to be one of the most successful children's books writers of all time.  He published his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in 1937.  Between that time and his death in 1991, he published more than 40 books and sold half a billion copes.   Because of his profound influence on children and their love of reading, the National Education Association has adopted Dr. Seuss' birthday, March 2, as National Read Across America Day.   

One of my favorite science investigations builds on one of the good doctor's fantastic books...Bartholomew and the Oobleck (1949).  The book (the sequel to The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins), follows the adventures of Bartholomew Cubbins, royal page in the kingdom of Didd, as he attempts to clean up the mess created by King Derwin when the king orders his royal magicians to cause an extremely sticky green substance known as Oobleck to rain from the sky. The story is great. But making Oobleck...that's amazing! In today's Science Wondershop, we'll teach the secret behind making your own Oobleck with some simple materials you can find right in your home.  I must warn you, however, making Oobleck is an educational and extremely messy experience!

Here’s What You Need
  •     Corn Starch
  •     A Bowl
  •     Water
  •     Food coloring (optional)

How's that for a list of materials. It can't get much simpler than corn starch and water.

Here’s What You Do

In your bowl, slowly add the water to the corn starch (you may want to color the water green...for added effect). You want a mixture that is about 1 part water and 2 parts cornstarch.  Stop when the corn starch/water mixture is thick and gooey. Remember, you're making Oobleck...not gravy.

That's it. One step. Pretty simple, huh? Now it is time to explore the properties of this really interesting material.  As you explore the Oobleck, think about these questions:
  • Can you pour Oobleck?
  • What happens when you hold it in your hand?
  • What happens if you poke it with your finger (quickly or slowly)?
  • Can you roll it into a ball?
  • Is it a solid or a liquid?
  • What happens if you smack the top of the Oobleck with your hand?

Clean Up: Oobleck will clog pipes so don’t pour it in the sink! If you have a dumpster or large trash can, dispose of it there. If it gets on the floor or carpet, don't worry. Once it dries, it vacuums or sweeps up easily. You can also save containers of Oobleck by covering them with plastic wrap and putting them in the refrigerator.

The Science Behind Oobleck

Is Oobleck a solid or a liquid? Maybe it is a solid and a liquid. Impossible. It can't be both. The truth...Oobleck is a non-Newtonian fluid. Most of the fluids we know are Newtonian fluids, but non-Newtonian fluids are a weird but interesting group of fluids. When a force (e.g. sqeezing, stirring, slapping) is applied to a non-Newtonian fluid, the viscosity (resistance to flow) of the fluid increases. In simple terms, any force you exert on a non-Newtonian fluid will make the fluid behave more like a solid. The more force you exert, the harder the fluid becomes. Strange but true! Other types of non-Newtonian fluids include quicksand, ketchup, and blood.

Wondershop Fast Facts: Dr. Seuss

Here are some interesting things you might not know about Dr. Seuss:
  • His real name was Theodore Seuss Geisel - Seuss being his mother's maiden name. He started using it as a pseudonym at university. He added the Dr later, as a joke, because his father had always wanted him to get a doctorate and become a professor.

  • Between 1937 and 1991, when he died aged 87, he published more than 40 books, which have sold half a billion copies between them - more even than J K Rowling's Harry Potter books. He nearly burned his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, after it was turned down by 27 publishers. 
  • One of his most popular books, Green Eggs and Ham, was the result of a bet that he could not write a book using only 50 words.
 Source: BBC News (

Thursday, February 14, 2013

This Year, Charm Your Valentine With Science

You've done chocolate.  You've done cards.  You've even done the candlelit dinner.  Now, you find yourself searching for something really special to really charm your valentine this year.  How about a little science?  That's right...with a little preparation, some simple materials, and some science know-how you will have your special someone swooning. At the very least, they'll be impressed.  This year, send them a secret message that can only be revealed with a little...heat!  

Here's What You Need
  • A Frixion Pen (blue or black works best)
  • A regular ball point pen (the same color as your Frixion Pen)
  • A Valentine's Day card, a notecard, or something else to write you message on
  • A candle, lighter, or toaster
Here's What You Do
Use the regular ball point pen to write your secret Valentines Day message on your card.  Remember, this will only be read by your sweetheart, so don't worry about being too mushy. Really pour on the sap!

Use the regular pen to write your secret Valentines Day message
Now, use the Frixion Pen to disguise your secret message.  The object is to make the message impossible to read.  Turn the letters into symbols.  Write new letters or words.  Draw flowers, trees, birds, and little stick people.  Get creative!  Remember, you are sending  a secret message.  The object is to hide your message with the Frixion Pen.

Use the Frixion Pen to disguise your letters and words
When you give your card to your special someone, they will probably be uncertain about what they see. Take advantage of this moment of utter confusion. Wave the card over a heat source such as a candle, lighter, or toaster.  Anything that was written with the Frixion pen will quickly disappear when the writing is expose to heat. All that will remain is the message you wrote with the regular ball point pen!  Now smile and soak up all that good Valentines Day lovin'!

Heat will cause the Frixion pen ink to disappear
The Science Behind the Disappearing Ink
The Frixion Pen is not like other erasable pens. The ink in these pens is sensitive to changes in temperature.  At temperatures between 15°F and 140°F, the ink will appear black or blue on the paper.  However, as the temperature goes above 140°F the ink becomes clear.  Holding your card over the open flame pushed the temperature past that 140°F mark.  Likewise, if you want the pigment to reappear you need to cool the ink down to a temperature lower than 15°F.  Stick your card in the freezer for a while and the symbols you created should reappear!
Because it responds to changes in temperature, the ink in the Frixion Pen is known as thermochromatic ink. It can be formulated to change colors at different temperatures. These types of pigments have been around for quite a while.  In fact, they are responsible for the color changes in things like mood rings and heat sensitive labels. 

Happy Valentines Day from the Science Wondershop

Here's a little Valentines Day science for you. Concentrate on the text in the center of the image - You're Cool (focus in...don’t blur your vision!).  After a little while, the hearts will disappear! Don't believe it? Try it.  Another side effect is that the missing rotating heart will turn blue.  Pretty amazing, huh? This animation was created by Mr. Scott Henderson

How Does This Work
The hearts disappear due to an effect know as retinal fatigue.  The retina is the part of the eye that is sensitive to light.  It acts like a camera.  Images that come through the lens of the eye are focused on the retina.  The retina turns the image into a signal that it sends to the brain. Objects like these hearts, which are moving constantly in a repetitive motion, are basically ignored by the brain after a little while.  This causes them to disappear from view.

Now let's explore whey you see the blue heart.  An afterimage is a visual impression of an image that remains in the retina of the eye after the initial image is removed. The afterimage always has colors that are complementary to those of the original image.In this case the after image is a blue heart! 

By studying visual illusions, and the ways in which the brain controls what we perceive, scientists learn more about sensory perception, about the brain, and about vision.