Saturday, March 24, 2012

I was listening to NPR Science Friday yesterday and Alan Alda was the feature guest.  He was describing his current work Visiting Professor and as a founding member of the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.  He set up a challenge were a scientist has to explain to an 11-year old what a flame is.  Below is my submission to the Flame Challenge.  I have had this question from students before but they are a little older so I simplified it somewhat.  Does this make any sense to anyone?  Eleven or not?

Fire, or a flame, is a plasma, that is, the fourth type of matter.  All matter starts out as a solid when it is cold enough (ICE).  In a solid particles are in a fixed position and touching each other.  If you increase the energy, the matter can be in liquid form where particles are moving but still in contact with each other (WATER).  Adding more energy, matter converts to a gas where particles moving and are not in touching each other (AIR).  Finally adding even more energy, matter converts to a plasma  where some electrons normally bound to an atom are freed so you have a mass of free electrons and atoms with missing electrons zooming around (FIRE).

Fire is produced as a result of a type chemical reaction known as combustion.  Combustion occurs when compounds combine with oxygen to form new compounds.  Most commonly, combustion occurs when hydrocarbons (compounds containing carbon and hydrogen, GASOLINE) and oxygen react and produce carbon dioxide and water.  In order to turn on the combustion reaction, activation energy (MATCHES) must be added to the system.  Once it is on, heat and light are produced and it continues until one of the reactants is used up or removed.  

During the reaction, enough energy is produced to free some of the electrons from atoms.  However, these free electrons and atoms with missing electrons are not happy being apart and quickly combine to form new compounds.  They form new compounds because matter wants to be stable and carbon dioxide and water are more stable than oxygen and gasoline.

Now the tough part:
Electrons are located in regions surrounding the central portion (the nucleus) of the atom.  These regions, also known as shells or energy levels, represent an approximate distance away from the nucleus of the atom.  The higher the shell, the higher the number.  Each shell can hold only a certain number of electrons so when a shell is full, the remaining electrons have to go to a higher level (THINK OF A LADDER).  When electrons are knocked out of their shell they are said to be excited (THINK OF THEM BEING AT A PARTY).  Electrons poop out pretty quickly and want to go back to their place in shell of an atom (HOME TO BED).  When electrons go back down to the lower shells of an atom, they give off light.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

5 Questions With . . . Sociology’s Daniel Long on Education Reform

Daniel Long, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Wesleyan University, was invited to testify in front of the Connecticut General Assembly's Education Reform Committee in February.  His answers to these five questions are well thought and make good sense.  Given the proposed Education Plan, it seems they did not take his advice...

5 Questions With . . . Sociology’s Daniel Long on Education Reform

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

And the winners are:

Checkout the rest of the models at:  All Molecules

This was the first year that I had a vote.  It worked out really well as the students took the assignment more seriously since they were voting on each other.  One reason I did not do the voting prior to this year was that I did not want to have a logistics nightmare.  What made me decide to have a vote this year technology.  I  developed a form using Google Docs and then linked it to a QR code (bar code) that I created using a QR Code Generator.   Once in place, the students would just scan the code with any SMART phone and enter their picks.  The form was simple: Student Name; best in period 1; best in period 2; best in period 3; best in period 4; and best overall.  An additional bonus is that I was able to leave the vote open for certain time in case of absences.  Also it allowed for other students, teachers, and administration to partake as in it as well.  Let the voting continue!

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Pleiades by kurtzepp
Pleiades, a photo by kurtzepp on Flickr.
I never thought my car, a Subaru, as being star quality, but then again, here is the Subaru star cluster. Subaru is Pleiades in Japanese for those who didn't know. Notice the Seven Stars on Subaru vehicles.

Pleiades in Greek mythology refers to the Seven Sisters who also happen to be daughters of Atlas.  Atlas being the Titan who holds the world on his shoulders.  The group 541 light years away from Earth.  Six of the stars are visible with the unaided eye many more are visible with a small telescope.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Molecular Models Competition.  Who will win...

Find out Monday.  In the meantime I just get buried by molecules.  Help!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

On the trail of the Sugar House

My family I have been visiting sugar houses this time of year since we moved to the heart Maple-Sap collection-land, New England.  This year we decided hit Flanders Nature Center in Woodbury Connecticut.  The surrounding farm land was purchased in 1926 by a wealthy NY family and eventually turned into a nature preserve from 1963 with the inception of the Flanders Nature Center, Inc. to 1973 with the first land grant.

Native Americans from this region were the first groups known to have collected maple tree sap and produce maple syrup.  News to me!  This was going on long before the Europeans arrived.  As the very knowledgeable Flanders volunteer explained, the Native Americans collected the sap by cutting a V-shaped incision on the tree and setting buckets under the incision.  Since they did not have metal containers to boil the water away and concentrate the maple sugars, they set hot rocks into the hollow log containers.  If it was cold enough at night, they would let the surface freeze and remove the ice which also concentrates the syrup solution.  Once the syrup was produced, they could store it birch-bark buckets and use it for cooking.

Legend has it that the first production occurred by accident when a tomahawk was thrown into a tree with a hollow log under it.  The next morning the hollow log was filled with what the natives thought was plain water.  A hunting party came back with a deer.  Logically, they cooked the venison in the special water and a new recipe was born...

For more photos click on the link: Maple

Of course forest hiking is available.

Thanks Flanders Nature Center!