Folsom Powerhouse

This past weekend we got to visit the historic Folsom Powerhouse. Built in 1895, it used what was then state-of-the-art technology to harness water power and turn it into electricity for the city of Sacramento.  This kind of power is also known as hydroelectric power. It’s now a historic landmark and home to lots of different interactive exhibits.

The Folsom Historic District also features really neat original storefronts, the Folsom History Museum, and an original blacksmith forge, next to which you can pan for “gold” and learn about early prospectors.

We learned a lot on this trip without realizing it, and had a lot of fun while we were learning!

What’s an Appendix For?

madelineappendixWe were reading one of our favorite books, Madeline, and were wondering about something that happens to her in the story. Madeline wakes up crying and when the doctor comes he says, “Nurse, it’s an appendix!”

What is an appendix, and what is it for? Everyone is born with an appendix. It’s attached to a pouch, called the cecum, that is part of your large intestine. Your intestines are part of your digestive system, which helps you process the food you eat and eliminates waste. Nobody really knows what the appendix is for, although some scientists think it may have been used by early man “to digest tough leaves and bark.” They call the kind of organ that no longer serves a purpose a vestigial organ.

Sometimes the appendix can get inflamed and cause us to get sick, like Madeline did. Since the appendix doesn’t serve a necessary function, her doctor removed it in a procedure called an appendectomy.

Right after we were talking about Madeline’s appendix, the grandson of Madeline author Ludwig Bemelmans was on the radio, talking about his new book Madeline and the Old House in Paris. What a coincidence! We can’t wait to read it!

UPDATE: “Long denigrated as vestigial or useless, the appendix now appears to have a reason to be — as a “safe house” for the beneficial bacteria living in the human gut.” Read more at dukehealth.org. Thanks Randy, for the tip!

Expanding Your Horizons Conferences

Expanding Your Horizons is a series of conferences for girls with workshops in science, technology, engineering and math (also known as STEM). EYH’s goal is to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers. Scientists and other educators lead fun hands-on experiments and learning exercises on topics like marine biology, scientific illustration, space and entomology. Last year’s session on insects (entomology is the study of insects) was one of our favorites!

Expanding Your Horizons runs conferences throughout the year, all over the U.S. Check out their schedule to find one near you and sign up.

Remembering Kid Scientist Co-founder Jeffrey McManus

From the Kid Scientist About page: “Kid Scientist is the blog of Jeffrey McManus, a Silicon Valley software engineer and writer, and his daughter, Celeste. When Celeste started kindergarten, they began having a conversation about science every morning — Celeste would ask questions and Jeffrey would answer to the best of his ability. (Sometimes he’d need to look up the answers when they got home.) Their conversations meandered, covering topics ranging from biology, the environment, space, health, you name it. Eventually they decided it would be a good idea to share the subjects of their conversations with the world, so in 2007 the Kid Scientist blog was born.”

jeffrey

Jeffrey P. McManus
1967 – 2013

At the beginning of this Summer, our family made plans for revitalizing Kid Scientist with input from now middle school-aged Celeste and her younger brother Revelin. Jeffrey passed away on July 5, 2013, before we had a chance to put our plans into action. He was a leader, a teacher, and a mentor to many. His children’s education meant everything to him, and he was always looking for ways to teach them new things in a way that was fun and memorable. Thanks to him, Celeste and Revelin remain fascinated by nature and the universe and what makes it tick. In that spirit we are going to continue to blog about the things that make us curious about science.

If you have a topic that you’d like us to cover, please leave a comment and we’ll investigate!

Carole McManus
Editor, Kid Scientist

 

Harnessing the Power of Spider Silk

spiderA professor at Arizona State University is studying the silk that spiders spin to build their webs. Scientists have discovered that spiders can spin six different kinds of silk. Each kind of silk has different properties. Some kinds of silk are very stretchy, while other kinds are sticky. The most amazing thing is that spider silk is very strong — as strong as steel, in fact.

So why don’t we farm spiders and use their silk to build useful things? Professor Jeff Yarger has the answer:

The reason is that spiders don’t produce silk in large quantities.

“You can put lots of silkworms in a small area and genetically modify them to go from the larval state to a moth in 20-30 days. Spiders take longer. But let’s get to the crux of it—spiders don’t like each other. They eat each other,” he explains.

The scientists came up with an idea to make spider silk without using actual spiders. They altered silkworms to enable them to make spider silk. But there was another problem — the silk spun by silkworms was not as strong as real spider silk. Their next challenge is to use a powerful scanner called a Magnetic Resonance Image machine to look more closely at the altered silkworms in hopes of perfecting artificial spider silk.

via Researchers aim to harness power of spider silk | ASU News.