President Obama to Host a National Science Fair at the White House

Here’s some news that got all of us at Kid Scientist excited:

“President Barack Obama said Monday he would convene a national science fair next year to honor young inventors with the same gusto that college and professional athletes celebrate their victories at the White House.

‘You know, if you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House,’ said Obama, a sports fan as much as a science nerd. ‘Well, if you’re a young person and you produce the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too. Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models.’

He said they would show young students how ‘cool science can be.’”

We agree!

Rube Goldberg Machines

rube_napkinBy now, you have probably seen the OK Go video that everyone is talking about, featuring the Rube Goldberg machine. That machine took months to build, and days to film. You can learn more about how the contraption was built here. We were wondering, who started this whole contraption building craze in the first place?

What people call “Rube Goldberg machines” are based on the cartoons of Rube Goldberg, whose work appeared in newspapers in the early 1900′s. The contraptions usually were incredibly complicated ways to do something simple, like scratch your back or mail a letter.

We really like this blog post about the greatest Rube Goldberg contraptions of all time. What do you think, which one is the best?

Our First Tool: Multiplication Blaster!

We remember having to learn multiplication tables in grade school. We also remember how much of a pain it can be. So when Principal Investigator Celeste started learning them in her third grade class, we thought of ways to make it easier. We got into the habit of going over multiplication problems in the car on the way to school, but after doing this for a few weeks we realized it would be good to have a way for her to go through multiplication problems on her computer whenever she wanted to.

So we made the Kid Scientist Multiplication Blaster. This is a web page that takes you through as many random multiplication problems as you can stomach, from 3 x 3 to 12 x 12.

Try the Multiplication Blaster out and let us know what you think. Does this make learning multiplication tables more fun? Are there other similar tools you’d like to see us make? Let us know!

Scurvy!

One of our favorite dress up games is playing Pirate. Pirates get all the cool sayings, like “Yo ho ho” and “ARRRR!” and “Scurvy knaves!” We didn’t realize scurvy was a “thing” until we saw this video on “Spongebob Squarepants”

Spots on your back and teeth falling out? Gross! And what’s that stuff about a lemon tree?

Turns out scurvy is a real disease, and spots on your skin and spongy gums (EWW!) are two of the symptoms. It happens when you don’t get enough vitamin C. Long ago pirates and other sailors who were at sea for long periods had to live off preserved foods like dried meats. They didn’t get many fruits and vegetables, and so they would develop the kinds of health problems like scurvy that happen when you don’t eat a variety of good healthy foods.

Scurvy is pretty rare in modern times. Eating a variety of fruits (especially citrus fruits like oranges and lemons) and vegetables helps, and so does taking a vitamin C supplement. Drink your orange juice and you won’t have to worry about being a “scurvy knave”!

All About Copper!

Last weekend we were looking at the steeple of a church. It was sort of a green mottled color. We found out it was made of copper. Pennies are made of copper too—why is the penny a brownish-reddish color and the church steeple is green?

The Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty

When copper is exposed to oxygen in the air, there is a chemical reaction that turns it green. It takes years for the copper to turn from the coppery metallic color to the greenish-bluish color. Did you know that the Statue of Liberty is made of copper?

So why don’t pennies turn green? Well, being in people’s pockets, change purses, and in people’s hands, rather than exposed to the air like the church steeple helps. And pennies aren’t pure copper. Pennies are made from an alloy (mixture) of copper and zinc.

Copper is an element. Elements are the basic building blocks of… well, everything! Combined together, elements form chemical compounds. This video from our new favorite album “Here Comes Science” is about the periodic table, which lists all the elements:

Where Does Mold Come From?

moldy_tomatoAfter switching lunchboxes, we kind of forgot the old one for a while. And the half of a bagel with cream cheese that was inside. Oops.

Opening up the old lunchbox, we saw a lot of green fuzzy stuff—mold – had grown on the outside of the bagel.

What makes mold grow? What is mold, anyway?

Mold is a living microorganism that is part of the Fungi kingdom. Fungi aren’t plants, and they aren’t animals. Yeasts (used to make bread rise) and mushrooms are fungi, too. Fungi “eat” by releasing enzymes that break down their food into a form the fungi can absorb.

How did the mold get on the bagel? Mold reproduces by releasing tiny spores. These spores are so small that they can float in the air, from food source to food source. Mold grows well in moist conditions, which is why some foods, like fruit, attract it more than others. Molds come in many different colors, from black to blue to green.

Mold may look gross, it may be hard to clean up, and it may even cause allergies and breathing problems in some people, but mold isn’t all bad. There are quite a few medicines made from mold, including penicillin, which is used to treat illnesses like strep throat. Mold is even used to produce some kinds of food, like soy sauce and certain types of cheese. Fungi of all sorts are important in helping decompose (break down) organic matter.

Speaking of fungi, here’s an unscientific* joke for you:

Q: Why did all the girl mushrooms want to date the guy mushroom?
A. Because they knew that he was a fungi! (Get it? A fun guy!)

*This joke is unscientific because we know that fungi are asexual—there are no girl and no boy mushrooms!

Bay Bridge Construction

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is closed this weekend for a major project, part of the seismic upgrade of the bridge. This will make the bridge safer in case of a major earthquake.

In 1989, the Loma Prieta Earthquake damaged a 50-foot section of the upper deck on the Eastern side, making it collapse onto the lower deck. This weekend’s project is part of a major construction project that will eventually replace the Eastern span of the bridge, scheduled for completion in 2013.

We’re watching the construction crews in action on the construction cams. There’s a cool computer simulation of the work that is being done this weekend, and when the job is done, all the video that is being shot will be available in a time-lapse video on http://baybridgeinfo.org.