Category Archives: Science Activities

Cool as a cave

Mammoth caves - Historic entrance
Mammoth caves – Historic entrance

It was hotter than hot–over 90 degrees with a thick southern humidity that hits you like a bus when you step outside.  As I pulled on my long sleeve shirt, I chuckled at the thought of wearing it on the surface, 250 feet above my current location.  It was 55 degrees where I stood and boy was it fabulous.

With 405 miles of mapped cavities and some unknown distance of unmapped offshoots, Mammoth caves in Kentucky is the longest cave system in the world.  I experienced a mere few miles of this wonder, with at least a couple of those miles intertwining and overlapping each other like spaghetti in a bowl.  However little distance walked, crawled, & climbed, it was undoubtedly one of the coolest adventures of my life–both figuratively and literally. Continue reading Cool as a cave

Thing explainer explained

In his new book, Thing explainer: complicated stuff in simple words, Randall Munroe uses the top ten hundred words in the language spoken most in the world and lots of pictures to explain how some things work.  In a world with too many big words, this book is great.  However, some of the top words, simple enough alone, are still changed for others and one of the big words that tell you what the book is (marked above) isn’t even in the top words!  Despite several wrong word choices, Thing explainer hits the mark for interestingly explaining things.

courtesy of
courtesy of

Continue reading Thing explainer explained

What’s your favorite science learning moment?

When I was a kid, my father came home one day with a tank of liquid nitrogen. Strange? Not really – this is how my family rolls (full disclosure – my dad is a physics professor)! My little sister and I were told to investigate the properties of this mysterious liquid that was completely obscured by the spooky looking fog rising above it. We ended up tossing an innocent rubber lizard (lower on the toy priority scale than our Barbie dolls, stuffed animals or, of course, my toy dinosaurs) into the abyss and heard a loud SNAP! After eagerly reporting this finding back to my dad, he drained the liquid nitrogen to reveal the sad, cracked remains of our not-so-important lizard friend. It turns out that liquid nitrogen is extremely cold, a fact I’m reminded of every time I open my lab’s liquid nitrogen freezers and try not to lose feeling in my fingers.

Over the past few months, I’ve been taking a class in science pedagogy and it has reminded me of the moments in my life where I was doing science, often without realizing it. At its heart, loving science is just about being inquisitive and exploring – innate qualities we all possess. What is a favorite and/or memorable science learning experience that you’ve had? It can involve breaking something, creating something, hearing a great lecture or just staring out into space and having an epiphany. Tell us about it in the comments section or share with us via e-mail or Twitter and remember, it doesn’t have to be from a science class!

Building little engineers this holiday season

With the holidays fast approaching and Black Friday upon us today, here are some of the best engineering toys for kids.  Each of these toys develops spatial learning and problem solving skills that can grow and build with your child.  Empowering kids with the creation of real-world structures and electronics, children and adults alike can join in the fun.  And, especially, we need to make more of an effort to inspire young girls to engage in STEM subjects and I can tell you that I would have loved to have these toys when I was a kid!

Continue reading Building little engineers this holiday season

The Elements: A Visual Exploration

ElementsThe periodic table of elements is one of humankind’s iconic symbols. Despite the fact that you may only know the names and properties of several elements, you no doubt recognize the grid. Theodore Gray takes this famous table to a new artistic standard in his now world-renowned book The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. A bright and glossy black tome with a single element on each open 2-page spread, this is a great beginners resource for the visual depiction in high resolution photographs (if possible) and written description of each element. Accompanying each page are things in the world that are made up of the element. From common metals used in jewelry like silver and gold to rare earth metals like Lanthanum whose oxidation lights up camping lanterns, each element includes stories of how these elements are interesting to many more than just chemists.

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 10.02.51 AMIf you or your kids are more digitally stimulated, there is also an iPad app ($13.99) that includes each page of The Elements book in HD. Or visit for free interactive fun with the elements. On this website, you can also purchase posters, placemats, and cards to enhance your child’s chemistry IQ.

FullSizeRenderA great companion activity to The Elements, is this 1000 piece puzzle that I recently put together.  As you and your child add pieces to the puzzle, searching for similar-looking elements and browsing each name, symbol, and atomic number, I suggest looking up each element in the book or iPad app. When adding a new element to the puzzle, make sure to discuss what the element is and what it makes up in the world. Shout out, “I found Europium!” when adding this flaky rock to the puzzle, “And Europium creates fluorescence in light bulbs!”

Who knew chemistry could be so much fun!