Share it! Science : September 2014

3-d Food Printers??!!

     Everyone is interested in gadgets that save time, but this new technology almost sounds like something out of the Jetsons. Most of you are probably familiar with the idea of a 3-d printer. They are used to "print", or make, items out of plastic. 3-d printing has many practical applications from building patient specific implants for medical use to creating coral shaped pieces to entice coral polyps to recolonize damaged reefs. 3-d food printing uses the same basic technology, an additive process that in this case builds something edible. Two types of 3-d food printers will be introduced at the Maker Faire in Rome October 3-5th this year. Foodini is a food printer that aims to be the next home kitchen revolution, changing how we prepare food just as the microwave did way back when. Foodini speeds up some of the prep work in making a fresh, nutritious dish. For example it can build a pizza crust, or print out ravioli. It can also make cookies and intricate chocolates. The one caveat, and I believe for most this will be a big caveat, is that any food that the Foodini processes must start out in a paste or liquid form so that it can pass through the machinery. Meaning you would have to take the time to process your meal into paste before you can print anything out. The Foodini doesn't cook food, so that is an additional step. Unfortunately, I think it is a cool idea that might add up to being an expensive appliance, and in the long run is only saving a bit of time. I do believe it has many practical applications in professional bakery settings with its ability to make designs out of candy. NASA has given the makers of Foodini a grant to research "off-world" food processing. It seems to make more sense to build food this way on the International Space Station than for me to replace my microwave with this gadget. The other 3-d printer you can experience at the Maker Faire is called Dovetailed. Dovetailed is a fruit printer that uses a molecular gastronomy technique to build fruit out of small bubbles of liquid. So you can create a "raspberry" out of strawberry juice, or basically any other mixed fruit creation you can imagine. Basically if it is shaped like cavier, you can make it.
     We're a long way from walking into the kitchen stating what we'd like to eat and having that dish pop out of a device for us. It is interesting that we are now using such high tech equipment to do tasks that we could easily do by hand if we put aside just a few extra minutes. According to Michael Pollan in his book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation the average American spends only 27 minutes a day preparing food. When thinking about these food printers and what we are willing to do or buy to make things easier or faster, I am reminded of a quote from Pollan in his book: "When you consider that twenty-seven minutes is less time than it takes to watch a single episode of Top Chef or The Next Food Network Star, you realize that there are now millions of people who spend more time watching food being cooked on television than they spend actually cooking it themselves. I don't need to point out that the food you watch being cooked on television is not food you get to eat." Now, I enjoy watching the mentioned food shows myself, but I also spend a lot of time in the kitchen (by choice). It's really a choice whether you are willing to carve out the time to cook, or you want to spend that time doing something else. We all have different priorities and that is ok. I'm not sure if 3-d food printing will actually be a way of the future for everyone, but perhaps for some it seems like an interesting way to save time in the kitchen.

Read more:

Kitchen Science Links and Resources:

20 Kitchen Science Experiments for Kids:

The Kitchen Pantry Scientist:

Easy, Edible Kitchen Science Experiments from


Inventions for a Brighter Future

     Ann Makosinski is a teenage inventor from Victoria, BC, Canada. She embodies the type of drive and thoughtful innovation that gives me faith for our future. Last year, at the ripe old age of 15, Ann won the Google Science Fair in the 15-16 year old category. Her invention is elegantly simple, yet incredibly utilitarian. She invented a flashlight that is powered by the heat of your own hand. Ann was inspired by friends in the Philippines who were unable to do their homework once it was dark because they had no electricity. Ann knew that this was the case in many parts of the world. She was interested in tapping into the potential of human thermal energy. Ann's flashlight is an aluminum tube lined with Peltier tiles. Peltier tiles are made of two different types of metal and generate a current when one side is heated and the other cooled. When you hold the flashlight the heat from your hand warms one side of the tile, while the other side is cooled by the ambient air. She made her prototype for $26 and it could maintain a strong beam of light for 20 minutes. Her flashlight works with no batteries, no mechanical energy (like cranking), as soon as you pick it up- it lights up. Brilliant. Since winning the Google competition she has begun to work with engineers to increase the brightness output to be more comparable with other flashlights. Until then it is not marketable, but a solution is within reach.
     It has only been fairly recently when scientists and engineers have looked into using body heat as a power source. It is difficult, as our thermal energy is not strong enough to run most devices. Possible applications may be power sources for hearing aids, or pacemakers.

     Ann is just one of a growing group of young inventors and makers. Google is not the only high stakes contest available for innovative kids; others include the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, Microsoft's Imagine Cup, Toshiba's Exploravision, and the Intel Science Talent Search. In an age where it is easy to imagine creativity being squashed by so much clicking, swiping and staring at screens it is exciting to see all of the incredible things the next generation of citizens are producing.     
     Invention challenges are only one piece of the innovation puzzle. As we become more plugged in, many people yearn to create in three dimensions. I believe it is innately human to innovate. Kids and adults are becoming more involved in the maker and DIY movements. Maker spaces are becoming available for people to share in the use of tools, equipment and technology to build and create their own inventions. From knitting and canning to carpentry and electronics, magazines, books and websites featuring ideas and directions for do-it-yourself projects are all the rage. It seems that the more "advanced" we become with our gadgets the more we miss engaging our minds and hands.                               
     I was inspired and filled with hope in reading about Ann and other young inventors. With a little creativity and ambition, the possibilities are truly infinite.

Read more:
Resources and links for Inventors:
Innovation Competitions:

Books to check out:
Click on the images for more information, see my disclosure statement on sidebar for information about my affiliation with Amazon.

MAVEN Spacecraft to become Mars' Atmospheric Maven

     On Sunday the MAVEN spacecraft entered Mars' orbit. NASA launched the MAVEN project in November of 2013 to study the atmospheric conditions of the red planet. MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) traveled 442 million miles, or 711 million kilometers to reach its destination. Now that it is in orbit with Mars it will begin to collect data on magnetic fields, solar winds, chemical make up, etc. of the atmosphere of our neighbor. The purpose of the mission is to learn not only the current atmospheric conditions of the planet, but also give us insight into the history of Mars' atmosphere, climate, availability of liquid water and potential for future habitability. This bird-like spacecraft will be in orbit at different levels of the atmosphere for a year-long mission. Visiting different levels of the atmosphere will allow a greater understanding of the whole picture. At its closest MAVEN will be only 93 miles (150 km) from the surface of Mars and at its highest will travel 3,728 miles (6,000 km) above the surface. Although I don't suspect that we earthlings will be headed to inhabit Mars any time soon, it is fascinating that we are able to use current technology to put the unwritten historical puzzle of our neighboring planet back together.
     The next NASA launch will be in just a few days, on September 25th, when the Soyuz rocket will take the new crew up to the International Space Station. This will be expedition #41 for the ISS and includes NASA flight engineers Barry Wilmore and Reid Wiseman. During this mission the scientists will be studying how microgravity affects the growth of cells through experiments on plants and fish, and will study meteors entering Earth's atmosphere. NASA offers a treasure trove of teaching resources concerning the ISS at We don't always hear about it in the news, but there are new discoveries being made everyday in Astronomy, it's worth the time to check them out!

Read more:

More Space Stuff to explore:

Mars and MAVEN activities for kids from NASA

Excellent video tour of the International Space Station:

NASA Kid's Club

NASA for Educators

"Firework" Spitting Fish

     The BBC has done some incredible film-making when it comes to wildlife. They have recently filmed a dazzling phenomena involving bioluminescent crustacean larvae. Bioluminescence is the ability of an organism to emit light. It is often found in marine life, but also on land; fireflies are a good example. In marine life it is often used as a method of being seen in dark, deep ocean waters. In the BBC video the larvae of a crustacean called a ostracod is offered as food to the cardinal fish. Once the fish consumes the ostracod it emits a burst of light, which then causes the fish to spit it out in a fantastic laser like display. The theory is that the cardinal fish does not want to be seen by its predators, therefore when the ostracod emits the light, the fish wants to get rid of it quickly. The ostracod gets a new lease on life, and the cardinal fish keeps safe from hungry hunters. Sounds like a happy ending for all!
     Bioluminescence in the ocean is not too difficult to see yourself if you know what to look for. Dinoflagellates are bioluminescent plankton that light up when disturbed. There are some areas where swimming amongst them will initiate a fascinating light show. One popular location to try this is the Bioluminescent Bay in Puerto Rico. On ocean beaches from Oregon to the coast of Maine you can see these dinoflagellates light up the wet sand just by scraping your hands through it on a dark night. Another wonder of nature, you just have to be patient, present and know where to look!

Read more and see the video:

Resources on Bioluminescence:

Encyclopedia entry from National Geographic Education

TED talk: Edith Widder- "The weird, wonderful world of bioluminescence"

High School Science Fair Project Idea on Bioluminescence

Linking Form and Function: Adaptations are Awesome!

      You may never have met up with one in real-life, but most likely have seen an image, model, or nature show depicting a rhinoceros beetle. Growing up to 6 inches, they are among some of the largest and impressive beetles on Earth. The male rhinoceros beetles exhibit sizable horns on the head and thorax. These horns are a variety of shapes and sizes. Although they look daunting, members of this group of beetle are harmless to humans due to their inability to bite or sting. The male beetles use their horns to fight other males over female beetles. Each member of this beetle group has a different method of battling their opponents.
      Scientists at the University of Missoula had a theory that the shape of the beetle's horns was adapted to their specific fighting style. They believed that the shape of the horns would put them at a disadvantage if they fought with any other method. To test this hypothesis they built biomechanical models of the horns of 3 different species of rhinoceros beetles. The models were tested by submitting them to 3 different types of force: pressure from above and the side and twisting. Sure enough, they found that each type of horns showed the least amount of stress when it experienced a similar force to that of which the actual beetle experiences. The method the beetle used to fight was the method best suited to the shape of the horn. The researchers found that the key to these advantages in battle did not have to do with how large or ornamental the horns were. They concluded it was the shape of the cross section of the horns. After Micro-CT scans the scientists found that fairly small differences in the shape of this part of the horn could make a big difference in how the beetles fight.
      We see time and time again how adaptations in plants and animals such as the horns on beetles, the beak shape of birds, or the chemicals a plant produces, make a huge difference in the success of these organisms. The adaptation of form to function and the diversity of life on this planet continues to be logical, smart and awe-inspiring all at the same time.

Read more:

Plant and Animal Adaptation Activities and Resources:
Scholastic's StudyJams (interactive) on Animal Adaptations

"Our Wild Neighbors" (interactive website) from the National Park Service

Animal Adaptations Educational Interactive Websites

NHPTV's "Natureworks" streaming episode: Adaptation

Science Fair Project: Plant Neighbors: Friends or Foes? Plant Adaptations- Written and Developed by me!

Music to Our Ears: Connections between Music and Language Development

     A recent study in the Journal of Neuroscience indicates that 2 is the magic number when it comes to brain development associated with musical training. A team of researchers led by Nina Kraus, a neuroscientist from Northwestern University, evaluated brain responses in children enrolled in an enrichment music training program in Los Angeles. After 2 years of training, rather than only one, students could more easily distinguish the spoken sounds "ba" and "ga". These particular sounds are more difficult to discern if you have dyslexia or a language impairment. Perhaps studies like this will help us to understand how to support children in their reading and language skills.
      This study is just one in a long line of recent research that indicates connections between music and brain development. Other studies have suggested that musicianship can improve memory, fine motor skills and the ability to pay attention to one thing while ignoring something else. This could be advantageous for students in classrooms where there is a lot of activity or noise. In one study, 6-year-olds who had 15 months of weekly keyboard lessons showed greater changes in their ability to control their finger movements and identify melodies and rhythm than students who attended music classes without instrument training. Parts of the brain that processes language also process music, which allows those with the ability to recognize errors in sentence syntax also recognize errors in chord structure. Clearly there is strong evidence linking musical training and language development.
      With the common core's focus on literacy, I'd say this is compelling evidence to re-invest funds for music programming in schools. Is it too late for me to dust off my clarinet and give it another go?

Read more:

Music and Sound Science activities for Kids:

Sound Uncovered- An interactive book for the iPad from the Exploratorium (FREE)

ZoomSci: Sound activities from PBS's ZOOM

Science of Music: Exploratorium online exhibits

Science Fair Project: The Effect of Music on Memory

Plants Respond to More than Rock and Roll

Throughout the history of the science fair, many a student has tackled the question: "How do different types of music affect the growth of plants?" It turns out that might be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the way a plant interacts and reacts to stimulus. A study out of the University of Missouri has shown that plants use their ability to detect certain vibrations, such as those caused by being chewed on by a predator, to increase their production of chemical defenses. Heidi Appel, a plant biologist and Rex Cocroft, who studies insects, collaborated to study how plants "hear" their predators. They found that plants produce more defense chemicals when they experience the exact vibrations caused by the chewing of a caterpillar. Other vibrations or motion of the plant, such as wind blowing, or vibrations caused by insects making sounds did not cause the plant to increase defenses. The plant was able to differentiate between a harmful vibration and an innocuous one. This is just one small peek into the intricate relationships found in the plant and animal world. Studies like these could certainly help us understand how to help defend plants and crops more naturally. It will be fascinating to see what else we will learn!

Read more:

Video about this study:

Plant Activities for Kids:

The classic "How do different types of music affect the growth of plants?" Science Fair Project

Plant games and activities from the National Forest Service, U.S. Botanical Garden and more!

Indoor plant experiments for kids

Dreadnoughtus: A New Monstrous Dinosaur

Do you have a dinosaur-obsessed child? The announcement of the Dreadnoughtus dinosaur, one of the largest dinos discovered to date, is sure to knock the socks off of dinophiles young and old. This dinosaur would have weighed in at 65 tons. Kenneth Lacovara, PhD of Drexel University discovered Dreadnoughtus schrani and compares its weight to that of 12 African elephants or more than 7 T-rex! Dreadnoughtus schrani is a member of a group of dinosaurs called Titanosaurs. Titanosaurs had a wide range of sizes, the largest of which, up until now, have remained a mystery to us. Usually only a few fossils are found from each specimen. In the case of the Dreadnoughtus archeologists recovered 70% of the skeleton, making it almost complete. Dreadnoughtus schrani was a plant eating sauropod dinosaur. It was unearthed in Patagonia. The name Dreadnoughtus means "fears nothing", making it an excellent moniker for this house sized creature. It will be fascinating to see what else we learn about these massive creatures as discoveries like this continue.

Read more:

Dinosaur Activities and Resources: 

Teaching Dinosaur Science: Tips and Resources for Parents 
Make a Fossil!

Field Guide from Dinosaur Train on PBS

Paleontology Activities from the American Museum of Natural History