Share it! Science : October 2015

Batty About Bats!

bats white-nose syndrome banana cure
bat photo by PD-USGov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Did you know this week was Bat Week? Often we associate bats with Halloween. I can agree that having one accidentally find its way into your house can be a little creepy and possibly disconcerting, but in general they are fascinating and important animals. There are many learning opportunities when you study bats. From their habits, bone structure, adaptations and roles in an ecosystem there are many science topics to explore.

You can also use these winged-mammals to teach about current events in science. Bats have been in the news the past few years due to the mysterious White-nose syndrome (WNS) that has plagued some important bat species and puzzled scientists. Since WNS emerged about 10 years ago, an estimated 5.7 million bats have died. As bats are an important part of many food webs continued mortality could have a huge impact on the structure of many natural ecosystems.

I recently came across a very exciting and hopeful story concerning a possible preventative for WNS.  Bats in Missouri were successfully treated with a bacterium that releases fungus killing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and then released. The culprit of WNS is a fungus that grows in fuzzy white clumps on the bats face, hence the "white-nose" name. The most interesting part of this story is that the cure came from research in something completely different- bananas!

little brown bat white nose syndrome WNS
Little Brown Bat with WNS. By Marvin Moriarty/USFWS [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Researchers were studying ways to prolong the ripening process in fruits that are shipped long distances before they are consumed. They found that the bacterium R. rhodochrous delayed ripening, but also prevented fungus from developing. A light bulb went off for a graduate student working on this study, and researchers got to work on seeing if this could also aid in preventing bat death as a result of WNS. Although it is not a cure for WNS, it can help to prevent it from spreading or becoming worse. There are many ways you can become informed and prevent the spread of WNS too. Check out this website to find out more.

What else can we learn from bats? Check out the articles, resources, lesson ideas and book selections below to help you teach and learn about these fascinating animals.

Read more:

Some Book Suggestions (affiliate links): 


Advances in 3-D Printing: Human Organs!

Makerbot image by Bre Pettis [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a post on how 3-D printing is revolutionizing medicine. At the time there was a big surge in using 3-D printers to build affordable prostheses. Exciting new research has been published that will most likely broaden the abilities of 3-D printing in the medical field- printing soft organs.

Yes, that's right, if researchers can master this process, then we could build organs rather than wait for organ donors to match up with those people in need. The biggest challenge in 3-D printing for soft parts is that the 3-D building process is additive, layer being built on layer. When you are adding layers of soft material like gels on one another they begin to collapse under their own weight. It is easy to print something out of rigid material, like plastic, but not as easy to print cells. 

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University published their new technique in Science Advances on October 23rd. In order to provide support for the squishy materials needed to "print" an organ, scientists found they could create a bath of semisolid collagen gel that would hold the printed material together until it was fully printed and solidified. This process has allowed them to build soft tissues like heart parts and even a miniature brain!

Pretty amazing stuff! 3-D printing is allowing anyone with access to a makerspace or a 3-D printing lab to experiment, engineer and innovate. Do you have a makerspace in your school or community? Access to materials to tinker with and the advances in technology like 3-D printers has created opportunities for research outside of settings like universities where it traditionally happens.

Read more:

3-D printing Resources:

Here are some books about 3-D printing and design that you might want to check out (these are affiliate links).

25 Weeks in the Garden, An Autumn Round-up

We've had a couple of hard frosts, so there is no question that the growing season is finished! It's always a bittersweet time for me, as I pull up the plants in our garden to clear it out for the winter. It gives me a chance to reflect on what worked and what didn't and look forward to trying again next year!

I always learn so much from the garden each year. New plants, new insects, new success and failures. Let's take a look back at 25 weeks in the garden and start dreaming about what we might plant next spring!

April 1st, 2015: No Foolin' 
April 10th, 2015: Week 2 (The first sprouts)
April 15th, 2015: Crocus and Strawberries

Crocus ©SBF
April 24th, 2015: A Splash of Yellow
April 30th, 2015: Perennials Popping Up
May 6th, 2015: April Showers Bringing May Flowers May 13th, 2015: Seed Potatoes
May 21st, 2015: Onion Sets

May 29th, 2015: Preparation and Procrastination
June 3rd, 2015: The First Pest Problems

June 10th, 2015: Tortoise Beetles!
June 18th, 2015: Pollinators and Wild Strawberries
June 26th, 2015: The Golden Ratio in the Garden

July 3rd, 2015: Green Galore!
July 10th, 2015: Much Ado About Mulch
July 18th, 2015: Tendrils-Plants in Motion

 24th, 2015: Isn't Summer Delicious?
July 31st, 2015: Lovely Lilies and Gorgeous Gourds
August 7th, 2015: Tomato Blossom End Rot...and Other Adventures
August 14th, 2015: An Insect Mystery
August 20th, 2015: Insect Mystery Revealed!

August 27th, 2015: Lemon Cucumbers
September 3rd, 2015: Small Potatoes

September 9th, 2015: Lessons from Sunflowers 
September 18th, 2015: A Race Against Time- The Science of Preserving Your Harvest

What will you plant next year? Gardening with kids? Do you have a school garden? Share your ideas! Comment below or connect with us on Facebook or Google+

(affiliate link)
Homegrown Collective

National Chemistry Week 2015: Chemistry Colors our World

It's National Chemistry Week!  The 2015 theme for National Chemistry Week (NCW) is "Chemistry Colors Our World". There are so many great science activities that relate to this theme. How does one pare it down to something manageable during NCW? We've attempted to do that for you right here. You'll find tons of color activities, general chemistry links and recommended chemistry apps below. Read on chemists young and old!

Looking for some kid-friendly information and activities to get you started? Refer to the American Chemical Society's publication for NCW: Celebrating Chemistry.

What is color anyway? This is really more of a physics question, but it is a good place to begin before delving into color chemistry! This is a great explanatory video from Physics Girl. [This video was the 2014 winner of the Flame Challenge, a competition for scientists to answer questions understandably for kids. (btw: My sciences classes at Pine Cobble School voted for you Physics Girl!)]

So where do we see color in chemistry? Lots of places! Pigments, food coloring, pH indicators, fireworks, etc. You can find color chemistry right here on Share it! Science News. Check out these posts:

Leaf Pigments. ©SBF 2015

Or maybe one of these color chemistry activities sounds like fun:
Add color to Steve Spangler's kid-friendly version of Elephant's Toothpaste

Try Science Bob's Rapid Color Changing Chemistry Experiment with materials you can readily purchase at the grocery store.

Or visit the Growing with Science blog's Chemistry Week page for several other fun chemistry lessons and activities!

Don't forget to practice and encourage safety! Here is some kid's safety equipment for kitchen science experiments. (affiliate links)

[Please note: take the appropriate safety precautions when working in an actual laboratory setting!]

Looking for more chemistry resources? Check out the links and apps below! Happy National Chemistry Week! 

Chemistry Links: 
Free Chemistry Apps

Explore chemistry with these great books! (affiliate links)


International Sloth Day: Amazing Adaptations Activity

Sloth image by Sergiodelgado (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
October 20th is International Sloth Day. Although it seems there is a day for everything now, once you learn more about sloths you'll see that they are worth celebrating! We'll investigate some of the awesome adaptations of the sloth, and share a fun adaptations activity. Then check out a bunch of other great links to fun sloth activities! 

This post contains affiliate links, please see disclosures for more info. 

Sloths are native to South America where they spend most of their time in the trees. You probably associate sloths with being slow or lazy. There is a reason for that! Although sloths are not speedy, they have amazing adaptations allowing them to live successfully in their niche in tropical forests.

What is an adaptation exactly? Adaptations are like a animal or plant's "special features". Adaptations are the way a plant or animal is built or behaves that helps it to survive in its habitat. A plant's thorns, or a duck's waterproof feathers are both examples of adaptations.

Do not be confused by the use of the word "adapt". Animals are not able to quickly adapt to a change in their habitat. For example, if the temperature dips to colder than usual they can't instantly grow fur to keep them warm. Adaptations are changes that have taken place over many generations suiting the animal or plant best for its environment.

Sloths have some AMAZING adaptations!

Sloth eating. By Christian Mehlf├╝hrer, User: Chmehl (Own work) [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
As a sloth's diet consists mostly of leaves, they do not get much nutrition or energy from their food. In order to deal with this they have a stomach with many compartments to help slowly break down the leaves. About 2/3 of a healthy sloth's body weight consists of the contents of their stomach! It can take up to a month to digest their leafy diet.

Since a sloth's digestive system is so slow and their food does not provide a lot of energy, they have adaptations to make up for this. They have very slow metabolisms, about 1/2 of what you would expect for an animal of their size. Their body temperatures are very low- only about 30 degrees Celsius, or 86 degrees Fahrenheit when they are active, even lower when they are at rest! Sloths do not move quickly, because they do not have the extra energy to waste!

By Stefan Laube (Tauchgurke) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sloth fur is specialized to help protect them as they hang upside down in trees. A sloth's outer fur points in the opposite direction of most mammals- away from their extremities- to protect them from the elements. A sloth living in moist conditions shares its fur with 2 different species of symbiotic cyanobacteria. This cyanobacteria gives the sloth's fur a greenish tinge, which helps to keep it camouflaged.

Besides staying camouflaged and only leaving their spot in the trees once in a while to relieve themselves, the sloth does not have too many adaptations for protection. Their claws are basically their only line of defense if they are actively being attacked. The main predators of sloths are jaguars, harpy eagles and humans.

Amazing Adaptations Activity:

Sloths have great adaptations, and so do many other animals. Here is an engaging activity for getting children to use their imagination and their understanding of animals and habitats. I have used it successfully with a wide variety of age groups, 1st-8th grade.

First you will need to create some lists of adaptations. You'll want several categories. They can be anything of your choosing for plants, or animals. For example here are some categories I might choose for animals: protection, coloration, locomotion, mouth-parts.

Generate a list of adaptations for each category. For example:
Spiky fur
Bad smell
Ability to jump very high

One envelope for each category- filled with adaptations! ©SBF 2015
Bright yellow stripes
Mimics another creature

Excellent climber
Leaps and bounds
Runs very fast

Pointy teeth for eating meat
Sucker mouth
Flat teeth for grinding plants
No teeth

Cut your list into strips, fold and then place them in a container or envelope. You will keep them in their categories, so in my example I would have 4 different envelopes, one for each. Remember, you can have as many categories as you want! Have the kids choose one strip of paper from each envelope. They must create a creature that has each of these features. Then they will draw the creature and their environment and be able to explain how each adaptation helps the new animal to survive in it.
An example I made years ago with some 1st Graders. ©SBF 2015

In my example, the student might have to create a creature with spiky fur, bright yellow stripes, that runs very fast and has flat teeth for grinding plants. Maybe the animal's environment could be one with lots of yellow flowers for camouflage and speedy predators to avoid. Its spiky fur helps to protect it from the thorns on the yellow flowers and allows it to get close to the flower to eat its leaves. Its name is the Yellow-striped Herbiyoo and it lives in the jungle.

Questions to ask:
  • Does the creature have any predators? How does it protect itself?
  • What does it eat? How do its adaptations help it to find food?
  • Could any of these imaginary creatures survive in the same habitat as a sloth?
  • What is your animal's name?
  • How many babies does it have?
What new animals have your kids or students created? We would love to see them and know what other cool facts you learn about sloths! Comment below, or share on our Facebook, Google+ or Twitter pages.

Check out all the great links below for other sloth activities! Many thanks to Peakle Pie for hosting this International Sloth Day Blog Hop

Peakle Pie - Sloth Games
Witty Hoots - Gingerbread Sloths
Kelly's Classroom - Facts About Sloths
Share it! Science News - Amazing Adaptations
Schooling a Monkey - Chenille STEM Sloths
Craft Create Calm - Sloth Books for Kids
Sticky Booger Home Schoolers - Feeling Slothy! Facts and Ideas

Do you have a sloth blog post to share? Link up here!

The World's Water Situation: A Science Demo for School or Home

Have you ever tried to reason with a kid about why they shouldn't waste water? "Why? It just keeps coming out of the faucet!" Just telling them not to waste it is probably about as effective as our parents telling us to eat our vegetables because there were starving kids in far off places. "So what? They won't get this food whether I eat it or not!"

Kids (and adults!) in developed parts of the world often take water for granted. We are lucky, unless we are experiencing a drought, to have a fairly consistent, clean water supply. This is certainly not the case everywhere.
by Scott Robinson
Let's look at 2 current events in the world's water situation. We've got some good news and some bad news. Then we'll explore a really effective hands-on way to educate about water conservation.

This post contains affiliate links, please see disclosures for more details. 

So first, the bad news... Have you heard about the toxic foam that forms on Bellandur Lake in India? I hadn't until I was assigned a writing piece on it. A combination of industrial waste and raw sewage has created a dire situation in this lake in the highly populated city of Bangalore. For decades pollution has been dumped in a series of canals that ends in Bellandur Lake. The winds and rain from monsoon season just add to the problem and make the foam build up. The foam flies through the air and builds up on the roads slowing traffic much like a snowstorm. It is giving people headaches, smells awful and sticks to your skin. Last May it even caught on fire! Lack of government funds, policing and environmental regulations prevent the problem from getting any better. Sort of a foamy nightmare.

The good news...An incredible young innovator has devised a plan to help clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Boyan Slat, a young Dutch entrepreneur and inventor, has an ingenious and cost effective plan in action to clean up a large portion of the bits of plastic that are floating, and breaking down, in the ocean. This plastic is slowly making its way into the food chain and causing human health issues, not to mention the devastation to aquatic wildlife as the trash floats around in the water. Slat's plan uses natural circular currents in the ocean, called gyres, to passively collect the plastic. It is corralled and collected, then recycled into oil to offset the cost of the collection. Amazing. Read more about his project, The Ocean Cleanup, here in the kid's article I wrote for DOGOnews.

So, there are negative things happening to the world's water, and some positive efforts to make changes for the better. The lesson for our kids is that although Earth is covered in water, very little of it is available for us to use. That is why we need to conserve what we have.

An effective hands-on way to show this is to do this demonstration at school or home. You can have students or your children help measure out the water in each step. Through the years I have come across many variations of this lesson. Here are two versions that I have adapted. One version is for those of you with access to science lab containers, like graduated cylinders, and the other version uses things you can more readily find around the house.

Version 1: The World's Water Demo with Materials from the Science Lab

  • 1000 ml graduated cylinder
  • 100 ml graduated cylinder
  • 10 ml graduated cylinder
  • petri dish (or any dish)
  • eyedropper
  • water
1. Fill the 1000 ml graduated cylinder with water. This represents all of the water on Earth.

2. Now pour 30 ml of this water into the 100 ml graduated cylinder. This represents Earth's fresh water. The remaining 970 ml represents the salt water in the ocean. We can't drink salt water!

4. Carefully pour about 6 ml of the "fresh" water into the petri dish. This represents the fresh water that is not frozen in ice caps or glaciers.

5. Of the water in the dish less than 1/3 represents water that is available above ground. Take an eye dropper and remove 1 drop of water from the dish. This represents the water that is clean, fresh, not polluted and otherwise available to use.

Version 2: The World's Water Demo with Materials from Home

  • 1 gallon jug
  • 1/2 cup measuring cup
  • 1 Tablespoon
  • eyedropper (or a straw to make a drop)
  • water
1. Fill the jug with water. This represents all of the water on Earth.

2. Take 1/2 cup of this water and pour it into one of the clear cups. This represents Earth's fresh water. The rest of the water in the jug represents salt water. We can't drink salt water!

3. From the 1/2 cup of water in the clear cup, take 4 Tablespoons of water and pour this into the second clear cup. This represents the fresh water that is not frozen in ice caps or glaciers.

4. From the cup with the 4 Tablespoons of water, remove one drop with the eyedropper or straw and put it in the third clear cup. This represents the water that is clean, fresh, not polluted and otherwise available to use.

Pretty mind-blowing, huh? Well there is good news here and there is bad news. The bad news is, we don't have a ton of available fresh water on Earth, so we need to understand how precious it is. The good news is we can teach our kids to conserve it!

For other ways to teach water conservation and test water quality, read my post: Science Teacher's Toolbox: Testing Water Quality

You might also want to check out Smarty Pants' TED-Ed video as a way to introduce water conservation!

Try these books to teach about water conservation!