Archive for the ‘General Science’ Category

William Kamkwamba is truly an inspirational man. He used the science he learned to build a wind powered electricity generator for his family and village, changing both his and their lives. He has written a book about building his windmill. It is called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope.

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For my work, I sometimes have to travel to conferences and events where we display and handouts (brochures, pamphlets, etc.) I will sit there at a table looking at passersby pausing to take a LOOK at the cool astronomy pictures and the colorful handouts that we have at our table. The problem is that they are sometimes doing it from a distance. They are hesitant (afraid?) to come up and take a closer look.

The fact people stop to take a longer look tells me that they are curious. Why they don’t try to find out more puzzles me.

If I am curious about something, I will try to find out more about it. I may realize it is something I do not like and find interesting but I may also realize it is something even more WONDERFUL than I imagined and enjoy it. I would never know if I do not try to find out more.

So, don’t be shy. Next you go to a science fair or other similar events, if you see something interesting HEAD ON OVER, take a closer LOOK, ASK questions. You just may discover something truly OUTSTANDING.

Note for parents: Children can sometimes be shy about approaching a stranger (rightly so) even if it is in a safe environment like a science conference. Therefore, it is not enough to nudge your child towards something that he or she find interesting. It is your duty as a parent to accompany the child so that they may satisfy their curiosity.

You, the parent, do not have to have interest in the science that is being presented. Walk your child over to the thing he or she finding interesting and tell the presenter so. The presenter will/should then address the child directly and tell him or her about what is being presented and answer any questions the child may have.

Often I see parents pretending to be interested on behalf of their children. The presenter, if they do not pick up on this, will address the parent instead of the child, causing the child to perhaps think that science is not suitable for them, which is a great loss. 

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I help write a weekly webcomic, Epo’s Chronicles, for work. To celebrate the International Year of Astronomy, I wrote a radio play for Epo’s Chronicles. It was just published on the 365DaysOfAstronomy.org. I hope you guys enjoy it. Here is link to the original post: http://365daysofastronomy.org/2009/09/16/september-16th-epos-chronicles/, which contains the transcript of the audio play. You can listen to it below.

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Let me explain. For a lot of students, science is what something GOOFY looking people in lab coats do. The goofy looking people speak using BIG words and even then half the time they are talking about how the things they are talking about is not well UNDERSTOOD.

Well, if they don’t understand it, how can a young scientist LIKE you get it? Here is an open secret, scientists have not found the answers to all the science questions. And scientists are curious people; they like to talk and think about stuff they don’t know.

But, there is a lot of COOL science questions that we do know the answers to. That is the kind of stuff you learn in school so that you can one day answer the questions that still need answering.

You want examples?

A baby has legs; so why can’t he or she walk? Some of you can already guess where I am going with this. The baby has to WAIT for the leg muscles to develop before they are strong enough to allow the baby to walk. The baby’s brain is also developing, helping the baby to learn how to balance him or herself. To a baby, walking is REALLY hard. But the baby keeps at it, the baby falls down many times but the baby gets up and tries again, and eventually the baby walks and the baby runs!

Of course, this is not exactly a fair comparison. Walking is something that is very important for most humans. Learning math and science is not (although I think it is). But, there are just so many WONDERFUL things to learn through science it would be a shame not to try, even if you “fall down a few times.”

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You have probably heard of the scientific method in your science class. You have probably used it when doing science experiments in school that required a lab report to go with it. It is VERY IMPORTANT in science, your teacher may have told you. All scientists use it. It is true, all scientists use it, pretty much all the time.

Xbox Logo

“Well, I am NOT gonna be a scientist,” you may have thought. Why should you care about the scientific method? Hmm… let me see if I can convince you of the BEAUTY of the scientific method. Let’s see if you can use the scientific method to get yourself a Xbox for your birthday! Wouldn’t that be cool?!

To see the USEFULNESS of it, let’s go through processes that make the the scientific method. So, what’s first?

1. Define a question or a problem you would like to solve.

What does that entail? What might be the question you ask yourself about getting you that Xbox.

Step 1. Question: How do I get an Xbox for my birthday?

DUH! Right? So far, so good. What is the next step?

2. Do some research.

Or, as I like to say, why re-invent the wheel?

Step 2. Research: Does your friend have a Xbox? How did he or she get one? Or, you could ask your parent or guardian, “What would it take for you to get me a Xbox?”

OK, what comes next?

3. Make a hypothesis (or a prediction).

A hypothesis is an EDUCATED GUESS about how you would expect things to turn out based on stuff you know already (the research you have done). Here is the interesting bit about a hypothesis; it DOES NOT have to be correct. That is why it is only a guess, although an educated one.

Let’s say after doing some research, you find out that your parents would love you to improve your grades and help out with some chores around the house. What sort of hypothesis would you come up with in your quest for getting yourself a Xbox?

Step 3. Hypothesis: If you get better grades and help out around the house, like doing the dishes, making sure to clean up your room when your mom asks, you will get a Xbox for your birthday.

Is it enough say that you will work on getting better grades and help out around the house? Nope. You gotta

4. Design and execute an experiment.

Step 4. Experiment: You have to do the things you think will get you that Xbox you have been wanting. You have to get good grades and you have to do your chores.

Your birthday finally comes around and you have done all the things you hypothesized that you need to do in order to can a Xbox. You wake up all excited and you run over to your parents to get your present and eagerly open your present. This brings us to step number 5.

5. Analyze and conclude.

Did you get a Xbox? Remember how I said that your hypothesis does not have to be correct? Your conclusion will either confirm your hypothesis or refute it.

Step 5. Analyze and conclude: If you did all the things you thought would get you a Xbox and you did, GREAT! Your hypothesis was correct! If you did not get a Xbox, you might think about what went wrong. Did you not get good grades in your class? Did you make your mom ask you several times to clean your room before you actually did it?

ALL DONE, right? Wrong! If you did not get a Xbox, you might want to revise your hypothesis and carry out another experiment based on your new hypothesis. I would! I really like PLAYING video games! But, we are still not done. We have one final step to perform.

6. Share your results.

This last part is important. I guess you don’t really have to, but if scientists did not do this last part, we would not have all the cool things like the Xbox. If you are successful, then by sharing your results, you help others become successful. If you are not, sharing your results would prevent others from repeating the same experiment. They might try something different and it might work! And, then, they share their results and someone else is able to get a Xbox! The last part is VERY important.

Step 6. Share: You could tell your friends how you used the scientific method to get yourself a Xbox, or you could tell them, cleaning their rooms won’t help them get a Xbox.

Can you think of other examples where you might use the scientific method? Hopefully, you can see that you use the scientific method (perhaps not exactly in the way I described it) and many aspects of your daily life without even realizing it.

Do you know what that makes you? A SCIENTIST!

Although the scientific method is a series of specific steps, it is also very flexible. The video below gives you another simple example of the scientific method and its flexibility.

Here is another video I found that I thought was cool and will help you remember the steps of the scientific method.

If you have a story about how you used the scientific method to solve a problem or answer a question, please post it in the comments section. I and others reading this blog would love to hear about it.

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