Category Archives: Podcasts

Growing Bacteria Experiment Helps BJ and Howie from Alice 105.9 Search for "Things" in the Studio

The growing bacteria from the 9News experiment

BJ and Howie are familiar voices to morning listeners of Alice 105.9. Whenever their conversation veers off on a science tangent, I know that my phone might ring. Several months ago, Howie was so certain that the studio was infected with mold spores that he paid to have his workplace tested. Any guesses? That’s right… no mold of any significance. Today’s issue is one of bacteria and germs.

Listen to the Interview on Alice 105.9

Early last week, Mikey the morning show producer called our office and order a Growing Bacteria Kit. Like good little science soldiers, they cooked up the nutrient agar and prepared the Petri dishes. The next day, Howie followed the growing bacteria instructions and swabbed areas of the studio where he thought the germs and bacteria were running wild. After letting the “stuff” grow for a few days, BJ and Howie invited me down to the studios for a quick look at their science project.

Here’s the important point… unless you have the samples professional tested by a qualified biologist in a lab, there’s really no way of knowing exactly what is growing on those dishes. I’ve been told by microbiologists at the University of Colorado at Boulder that while the “hairy” stuff looks bad, it’s probably nothing more than common mold. On the other hands, those  brightly colored dots (red, orange and yellow) are probably something much more serious… but that’s as much as anyone will say until a “real” test is performed.

microbe-familySo, to console BJ and Howie, I took them some cuddly Giant Microbes (Flesh Eating Disease, Mad Cow, Salmonella) and also invited them to touch 50,000 volts of electricity in hopes of killing off any lingering bacteria.

Listen to the interview…

Science Chat on Irish Talk Radio

Sean Moncrieff is the host of the Afternoon Show on Newstalk 106-108 FM in Ireland. This nationally syndicated show features news stories ranging from the serious to the zany… maybe that’s why they called. While waiting for my segment, I listened to the show and quickly realized how much I want to speak again in Ireland. I first lectured at the Irish Science Teachers Association in 1997 and again in 2000. I shared a few science demos and they taught me the finer points of drinking lots of Irish beer.

Facebook and Myspace for Teachers

I recently recorded a conversation held between me and Stephan Spencer, president of search engine optimization company, Netconcepts.

Spencer talks about the basics of both social networking sites, such as whether or not you should make your profile private if you are worried about your job, or prospective jobs. There are plenty of cases where exactly this has happened.

I can recall myself a time when my company was hiring and it was possible for us to gather a lot of personal information about the candidates just by going to their social networking profile. I had never thought of using these websites to learn more about the prospective employees, but it does work.

It’s not just making your profile private, but you also have to be weary when you are making comments on other people’s public profiles which can then later be associated back to you.

I also link it back to teachers, making the point that teachers could make a better connection with their students if they were found on the social networking sites. All they have to do is make sure they are actively moderating comments for anything that may be inappropriate.

Make sure you listen to this conversation for more information about the two popular social networking sites.

Science Fair Boot Camp reporting for duty, sir!

Doubling the number of participants in science fairs is a personal goal of mine, mainly because of the approach taken to it by teachers.

We often tell kids that they have to participate in the upcoming science fair, but we haven’t shown them how to do it. It’s difficult to get good results when the process hasn’t been modeled and the expectations haven’t been spelled out. It’s like if we told them to go outside and play soccer while handing them a ball but they didn’t know how to play, let alone seen a game of it.

So, here’s one possible solution to the problem… The teachers at Wilder Elementary had each child in their respective class do the same experiment with guidance by the teacher. For example, each student in the second grade conducted the same plant growing experiment. The classroom teacher guided each student through the process, helped the student collect and interpret data and arrive at a conclusion that answered their starting question. The trial was a great success, involvement in the next science fair increased from previous years, and teachers were excited that the students were actually using the scientific method in a controlled setting. Sure, it’s guided inquiry… but only through practice can we as teachers ever hope to move our students to a self-guided level.

Full explanation of the “Science Fair Boot Camp” is available in the embedded podcast.

The Deep Voice Gas – Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6)

It was fun to see David Willey on The Tonight Show this evening doing some nice variations on the classic sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) demo. This is the inert gas that is six times heavier than the air we breath. If you breath in helium (six times lighter than the air we breath), the pitch of your voice goes up. However, if you breath sulfur hexafluoride (six time heavier than normal air), your voice sounds low. You’ll find a complete explanation of the sulfur hexafluoride demo or anti-helium experiment as some call it in my experiment library.


For the Tonight Show, David filled an open top plastic box with the gas and proceeded to float aluminum foil boats and bubbles on this very dense gas. These demos got a nice reaction from the audience. Instead of inhaling the SF6 gas from a balloon, David had Jay Leno dip his head down into the box and inhale some of the gas. As you might imagine, Jay had fun with his “Barry White” voice.

After showing the heavy gas demo on 9News last year, Scott Merrick from Snacks4thebrain visited our lab in Englewood, Colorado to tape this video of the sulfur hexafluoride experiment for YouTube.