Thursday, December 29, 2011

Science Corner

Was our last science post really in March?  I've been remiss.  Let me try to make it up to the scientifically minded with some end-of-year book recommendations & a contest for kids!


A fun blog that I've recently discovered, Handsome Science, recommends these science tomes:

The Clockwork Universe by Edward Dolnick - A rousing tale, focusing mainly on Isaac Newton and his contemporaries, friends and rivals alike, of the early science of finding the workings of the solar system. Newton, like many others of his day, believed God had set a beautifully systematic solar system in motion aeons ago, or perhaps still had His hand in the motions. That either/or was actually a huge dilemma for these thinkers, since either God was no longer necessary for the universe to function, or had created an imperfect universe requiring His constant intervention!

The 4% Universe by Richard Panek - While this book isn't bogged down in jargon, it doesn't make for the lightest reading, either. But pick it up if you're interested in the story of how the evidence and theories of dark matter and dark energy accumulated over the last century, culminating in two ground-breaking theories of the cosmos emerging in the last few decades. The book covers many personal stories of the researchers and mathematicians who had to reconcile the known effects of gravity with new, baffling observations of distant galaxies.

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean - Pick this up for a great read on some very interesting elements, beginning from the earliest to be isolated, like hydrogen and oxygen, to those being created in modern atom-smashing labs today. Elements with interesting properties or histories are covered in more detail, such as gallium, a metal that melts somewhere between room and body temperature, used in an early practical joke chemists would play on their guests. (1. Make spoon of gallium. 2. Give spoon to guest to stir their hot tea with. 3. Laugh as guest pulls spoon handle out the tea, wondering where the other half went! 4. Make sure the guest does not drink the gallium-poisoned tea.)

Death by Black Hole by Neil DeGrasse Tyson - If you're anything like me, you've probably seen Dr. Tyson on The Daily Show or The Colbert Report about a dozen times now. He just might have the greatest stage presence and sense of humor of any astrophysicist in history. In fact, Carl Sagan of the TV show Cosmos was one of his idols and mentors. I think I first started seeing Neil DeGrasse Tyson on various Discovery Channel specials about the solar system and the rest of the universe. Death by Black Hole gave me the first clear picture of why a black hole is the way it is. And Dr. Tyson also gives one of his favorite thought experiments: what it would be like to fall into a black hole, feet first. He uses the term "spaghettification."

Death from the Skies by Phil Plait - Another dark title, from one of the most recognized names in astronomy blogging, Death from the Skies covers a myriad of different doomsday scenarios for our little blue planet, from asteroid impacts to the heat-death of the universe. (Warning: both are pretty much inevitable, but the latter is the subject of perhaps the most depressing thoughts I've ever had.) Phil Plait writes the blog Bad Astronomy, which is always worth checking out.

Sciencia: Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Astronomy for All by Burkard Polster, Gerard Cheshire, Matt Tweed and Matthew Watkins - This one could very easily make my job here obsolete, but I'll recommend you pick it up anyway. This is the only book on the list I haven't read cover to cover, and I almost bought myself a copy, but based on my wife's behavior at the bookstore, I have a sneaking suspicion I'll be getting it sometime soon after all... The reason I mention this one in particular is that it jumped out at me as a layman's encyclopedia of every major scientific concept out there: cellular life, evolution, galaxies, stars, you name it. (I'd have more examples, but I only got a quick peek!) And each concept is covered in one page of clear language and a picture. Beautiful.

All comments are taken from the blog. Thanks, Robert Stewart-Rogers!
The Kids' Science Challenge
Where kids discover that science is cool!
What is the Kids’ Science Challenge?
The Kids’ Science Challenge (KSC), the premiere elementary school science competition in the US, is a free, nationwide science competition for students in grades 3 through 6. The KSC is funded primarily by the National Science Foundation but also receives support from other foundations and corporations. The KSC engages kids to use their creativity to make connections and innovate on our current conceptions of how things work. By participating in the competition, engaging in KSC activities and following the experiences of the winners, all students learn more about the process of innovation and about how those curious “what if” questions are the foundation of scientific thinking.

How do I enter and how does the competition work?

Each year the KSC selects 3 science topics and a panel of expert scientists and engineers. The entry process is 3 easy steps:
STEP 1: Kids research the three topics.

STEP 2: Kids brainstorm their ideas, experiments or problems.

STEP 3: Kids submit their ideas or experiments for scientists to solve.
Students may enter in more than one science topic (Zero Waste, Animal Smarts, Meals on Mars), but must complete and submit a new application for each entry. There is a limit of one entry per topic for an individual or team.

What are the topics this year?

The Challenge: Can you invent a package that never ends up in a landfill?

The Challenge: Can you design a toy, game or experiment that enhances the life of a pet or zoo animal and demonstrates its particular intelligence?

The Challenge: Can you come up with a new way to preserve, cook, deliver or sustainably produce food in flight or on Mars?

What is the entry deadline?

The Kids’ Science Challenge is open for entries from October 1, 2011 thru February 29, 2012. You can complete the entry online or mail/fax a copy to the KSC. As of December 27th, there are still 62 days left to register for the Kids Science Challenge!  You can find out more at their website.

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