A Matter of Balance

One of my many “parlor tricks” is to leave a restaurant with the salt shaker balanced on a single grain of salt. My kids just sigh and take it for granted now. salt shaker, grain of salt It might look like a magic trick, but the the salt shaker balancing act is really a feat of science, plain and simple. The beveled edge of most restaurant salt shakers only needs a tiny flat edge to lean against, and voila: magic.

It’s also really easy to do. Easy, and impressive.

Just pour a small pile of salt onto the table top, or a plate, or any absolutely flat surface. Set the shaker into the salt and press until the shaker is well into the salt. Now, tip it and start trying to balance. There’s no rhyme or reason to this part; you just have to tip and balance until you feel the shaker settle, and then you let go. You’ll know when you can remove your hand. You’ll just. . . . know.  Once the shaker is balanced, carefully blow all the rest of the salt pile away.  All you really needed was one grain.

This is an activity that can easily become a habit.

salt shaker at Nick's English Hut

Grains of salt are not symmetrical; they’re fairly square-ish but not perfect. They do, however, have several facets, or flat sides, and that’s what your salt shaker will find to lean on.

magnified grain of salt

A salt shaker will balance more easily than will the pepper shaker because the weight of the salt helps with the balance.  Pepper is a lot lighter.  Oh, it will eventually balance, too, but it’s a lot easier to use the salt shaker.

If the shaker has even a slightly beveled bottom edge, balancing it is easier, but with some practice, you’ll be able to balance almost any kind of container on a grain of salt.  Pop cans, glassware, coins, napkin dispensers. . .  just be careful.  A full or partially full container will balance more easily than will an empty container.  You need a little ballast to lean against the salt facet.

My father used to say that he spent a lot of tuition money for me to go to college and learn this trick all on my own in the cafeteria, but quite honestly, I’ve gotten a lot more enjoyment and actual classroom use from the balancing salt shaker demonstration than I got from Intro to Aztec Sociology 216.  Not but what all that digging into the human heart with the bare hands wasn’t interesting and informative. . . .I mean, when I saw that heart removal scene in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” I understand exactly what was happening.  But I’d still rather share the salt shaker balancing act.

 

Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

The Spangler Demo Team Does the Reverse #ALSIceBucketChallenge

Steve Spangler and his demo team was challenged by a few of our fans and customers to join into the #ALSIceBucketChallenge.

We are a science company after all, so we had to add a science spin to the challenge.

Liquid Nitrogen  is 323 degrees below zero (translation – extremely icy liquid.)

We didn’t dump the liquid nitrogen over our heads. It is so cold, it will cause burns. Instead, our team dumped water into the liquid nitrogen for a completely different effect.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

The Spangler Science demo team now challenges… the Ellen DeGeneres Show backstage crew, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Sid the Science Kid (because we want to see a puppet dump water on its head and support ALS).

Donate to the #ALSIceBucketChallenge >

The Experiment of the Week Keeps Them Interested in Science!

School has started for most students by now, and many parents are wondering how to keep their kids interested in science – and other subjects – after school and on weekends.  My suggestion to these concerned and interested parents is to subscribe to the Experiment of the Week!

Steve Spangler Science Making Science Fun

Once you subscribe, you’ll get a super interesting science experiment in your email once a week!  The experiments come with full explanations of the actual science of the experiment, and usually can be done with what’s probably already in your pantry.

Your kids – and YOU – will find yourselves looking forward to every Experiment of the Week; with many families, this is a ritual they all participate in, every week.  Spangler Science’s Experiment of the Week is absolutely free of charge; just send us your email address and enjoy your free experiment – complete with a video explaining it – every week!

science rocks

While you’re signing up, why not check out our Deal of the Day?  You can score some awesome deals with this one!

Whether your children are homeschooled, unschooled, or going to public or private school, all students will benefit from participating in our Experiment of the Week.  In fact, not only will your kids benefit, they’ll look forward to it every week.  Our experiments are far more than merely educational; our experiments are loads of fun, and present scientific principles in ways that will intrigue and interest your kids while teaching them important concepts they’ll be able to apply to other things, as well.

When it’s science fair time, your kids will have sooooo many more cool ideas than the other kids will have!

Did I mention that Steve Spangler’s Experiment of the Week is FREE?  Well, I’m mentioning it again.  We want your kids to become not merely interested in science – we want your kids to become FASCINATED with science.  Come on, sign up for the Experiment of the Week.  You’ll be so glad you did, and your kids will thank you with every  individual experiment they get to experience.

Don’t think YOU will escape being interested and educated, either.  Parents are just as interested as are their kids.  You’ll find yourself anticipating that Spangler Science email as much if not more than Billy and Susie will!

Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

The 4 Elements of a Memorable Science Demonstration

Since starting at Steve Spangler Science in 2009, there’s one question that gets asked of our team more than any other: how do you create a memorable science demonstration? And the truth is, from our customer service team to our production team to Steve Spangler himself, we’ll all give you a different answer. So which answer is right? All of them!

Nobel Prizes for everyone!
Nobel Prizes for everyone!                             (Source: Wikipedia)

No matter who is supplying the formula for a memorable science demonstration, they’re correct. Every demonstrator uses the same 4 elements to create the perfect demo for their group, family, kids, or audience, though their methods may be different. They happen to correspond very well with the 4 classic elements. Most people start with…


DirtEarth – Research
Earth is the most familiar of the elements. We spend every day traversing its dusty, dry surface, but we have no clue what’s actually going on inside of it. For all we know, the core of the earth is a big, bubbling vat of baking soda and vinegar waiting to erupt with dyed carbon dioxide bubbles.

Science fair basics aside, it’s good to reacquaint yourself with the science behind the demonstration you’re going to perform. Even if you’re confident in your answer as to why you can create a teeter-totter by with two candles, it will be beneficial to get a refresher. Who knows, science could have uncovered a different answer!

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The world’s most sinister seesaw results from a children’s demonstration.

Researching your demonstration is also a great opportunity to discover ways of taking your experiment further. Find ways to spin off of your initial demonstration. This is your chance to really find ways of driving your lesson home.


drop-83018_640
Water – Practice
More often than not, mysterious happenings come from the water. Flesh eating river fish, mythical monsters, and giant snakes make sure that no human (scientist or otherwise) ever gets too comfortable within a triple-jump of water’s edge.

You shouldn’t be too comfortable in the performance of your demonstration, either. No one (read: actually, literally no one) likes having their demonstration, presentation, slide show, or what-have-you fail to perform. Geysers that don’t explode, launchers that don’t launch, and paper airplanes that don’t do the “plane”-part are all sure-fire ways of winding up red-faced in front of your audience.

IT WAS A JOKE, PEOPLE!
IT WAS A JOKE, PEOPLE!

Now, this is science, so there’s always a chance that things just won’t go your way. THAT is what makes practicing your demo so valuable. Practice gives you the chance at troubleshooting possible issues with your demo. From setup to procedure to clean up, practicing makes sure you’re ready for anything that science throws your way.


air-19227_640Air – Application
Without air, we’re dead. That’s just a fact of life, and YES I intended that horrible pun.

We all require air to run our body. While you never forget how to breathe, we don’t think about it very often, unless we’re really USING our breath. Runner, yoga instructors, midwifes… these people know what it means to really use our breath, because they learned to apply it.

The same goes for so many science demonstrations and lessons. When our minds learn new information, like that hot air has low pressure and rises, we are much more likely to remember it with a direct application. Talk to them about how the downstairs of their house probably feels cooler than the 2nd story or talk to them about weather, wind, and pressure.

Blue and yellow make blellow. Just so you know... it's science.
Blue and yellow make blellow. Just so you know… it’s science.

When demos don’t match up with a solid application, you create the dreaded, “When am I ever going to use this?” You need earth and water to be ready for that one!


fractal-22188_640
Fire – Passion

Earth is solid, water is liquid, and air is gaseous. Fire is plasma? Fire is flame? Fire is part of a grouping of things called “intangibles” by sports coaches everywhere; just like passion.

Here we see the intangible ability of narcolepsy.
Here we see the intangible ability of narcolepsy.                           (Source: Flickr)

Passion may not be absolutely required to pull off a memorable science demonstration, but it definitely aids in the effort. People of all ages can tell when someone is passionate about what they’re doing. The more genuinely excited you are about the demonstration you’re doing, the more excited your audience is going to be. Your energy is contagious.

Now just go and do it!

 

541289_10151141696561242_1371670891_nFresh Prince of the Science Fair.
Writer for Steve Spangler Science.
Dad of 2. Expecting 1 more.
Husband. Amateur adventurer.

Expert idiot.

The Beauty of Clouds

Ever since I was little, clouds have fascinated me.   A simple little visible mass of condensed water vapor floating in the atmosphere,  I realize, but mesmerizing, nonetheless.  Storm clouds have especially intrigued me over the years, and with weather season right around the corner there is no better time to talk about clouds, then now!

My Instagram-ed photo ofLenticular Clouds at sunset just outside the Spangler Office.
My Instagram-ed photo ofLenticular Clouds at sunset just outside the Spangler Office.

As a child I would lay in the grass and imagine the fluffy white clouds as the gates to heaven… beyond which, the wonder of the universe was endless.   And sometimes… they just looked like an animal or an ice cream cone. Nature’s scribble pad for me to browse through for hours on end.

Nature's Paint Set
Nature’s Majesty – some stratocumulus clouds at sunset over my apartment. Kind of makes you want to break out your True Color Tablets, doesn’t it?

In school, we learned that clouds form when moist, warm rising air cools and expands in the atmosphere.  When that water vapor condenses, it forms tiny little water droplets.  After the cloud droplets form, they either collide with each other and grow by joining together.  If those droplets grow too large, they will fall to the ground as rain or snow.

Which is cool and all, but it’s the beauty of the cloud,  the visual stimulation of the formation itself, is what always makes me stop in my tracks to snap a shot.

Cumulonimbus Cloud with a rainbow
Nimbostratus Cloud with a rainbow – caught on my way home from work one day.  Time to break out your prisms, right?

As I grew older, I began snapping pictures of clouds, particularly clouds during storms,  and have gained quite a collection of some amazing cloud formations.  So I have decided to share them with you throughout this post.  Some clouds are in formations that I had never seen until I moved to Colorado.

I’m no expert by any means, but I’ve done my research over the years.  When I snapped a picture of an interesting cloud, and wanted to know more, I did what every other human being would do..I asked the internet! hus have decided to share some of the facts that I’ve found!

Super Cool, dark and ominous Nimbostratus Clouds.
Super cool, dark, and ominous storm clouds I caught on my way home one day.  The darker the better for me and my camera!

 

Did you know that the smaller those cloud droplets are, the brighter they appear?  This is because the tiny droplets scatter more sunlight.  Large droplets allow more sunlight to pass through, which is typically why it’s lighter during the biggest downpour in a thunderstorm, rather than the darkness we experience during  the cloudy portion of the storm. (Which is my favorite part!)

Wall clouds during sunset.
Wall clouds at twilight can be super pretty, even though they may pose a weather threat.  These however, feel less threatening as I take them through my window!

Wall Clouds are large formations caused when moist, humid air near the ground gets drawn up into the storm cloud, and condenses to form this monster. (Even though it may appear that the cloud is being compressed from above.)  These amazing clouds are always rain-free because of the air moving upward into the cloud.

Wall Cloud Rotation
Wall Cloud Rotation

Wall Clouds often have a very noticeable rotation, which is what makes our other not so welcoming friend, the tornado!

 

Mammatus Cloud Formation
Small Mammatocumulus Formation

Mammatus (a.k.a Mammatocumulus)   I found is a meteorologic term used for cloud pockets or pouches that hang underneath the base of a cloud.   These clouds do not produce severe weather, but tend to be associated with strong storms and tornados. But don’t fret, they do not signal that a tornado is forming like our wall cloud friends sometimes do.   What really happening is that those pouches are created when the high concentration of saturated air is heavier than the surrounding air, so it sinks back down toward the earth. 

Mammatocumulus formations out my window.
Mammatocumulus formations just outside my living room window.

 Hole Punch Clouds  are another formation that has always made me ask, “How did that happen?”  These formations are found in altocumulus cloud layers, but the reasoning behind the formation tends to cause speculation.  What is believed to be creating these formations are airplanes.

These altocumulus layers  where the Hole Punch Clouds reside, contain super-cooled water.  When something comes in contact with the clouds, like an airplane, the cold water droplets rush over the warm propeller blades or wings of the plane.  As this happens, those tiny frigid water droplets begin to expand and contract.   They will contract back into the cloud themselves, leaving a hole in the layer.

If the droplets can’t find a particle to cling to you get drifting ice crystal particles that will sometimes fall, and make a streaky cone shape under the hole, which is also called a Fall-streak Cloud.

Super Pretty formations, most likely due to an airplane.
Super Pretty Hole Punch Cloud formations, most likely due to an airplane.

Wow, I didn’t realize how much I knew about clouds!  So, thanks for allowing me to share some of my photos with you today!!

Anyone know what kind of cloud this is?
Anyone know what kind of cloud this is?

Intrigued by weather yourself and want some great weather related products?  Look no further than with us here at Steve Spangler Science!  We have fun things like Insta-Snow Powder, Tornado Tubes and Cloud in a Bottle that can really boost your weather lesson.

Need more ideas or just love clouds like I do? Leave a comment below!