A Big Celebration of Small Things: NanoDays

23 03 2012

We talked about NanoDays, a national celebration of nanoscience, last year on the blog. Well, it’s back and on Sunday we’re hosting our own NanoParty here at the Museum.  From noon until 5pm on Sunday, March 25th, museum educators will be presenting various hands on activities to teach concepts related to nanoscale science and engineering and its potential impact on the future.

Come to NanoDays and explore tiny science, such as polymer chains to make slime.

Advancements in nanoscience are popping up in the news with increasing frequency. It’s likely that you have used products that have been improved by nanoscale research. Did you know that many types of sunscreen use nanotechnology? And that wrinkle-free and stain-resistant clothing are so easy to care for because of their nanoscale makeup?

Get up close to some small stuff!

We found some interesting NanoNews articles that we’d like to share with you!

  • Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Labratory have been studying how molecules might improve the performance of electronics. They recently made an experimental determination in which a molecule transferred an electrical charge to another molecule. Research with organic electronics have been used to make flexible display screens and solar cells. You can read more about this particular study here.
  • A group of nanoscientists from the Science Foundation Ireland have discovered a new material that could transform flat screen monitors for computers and televisions. The team is working closely with manufacturers who may be interested in using the finding in actual products. Find out more here.
  •  In nearby NanoNews, researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas and Virginia Tech have developed a vehicle inspired by a jellyfish to use for underwater rescue and surveillance missions. The “Robojelly” gets its energy from hydrogen and oxygen gas found in water – it doesn’t need batteries or electricity! The Robojelly is covered in artificial muscles that are made of a metal alloy wrapped in carbon nanotubes that is coated with platinum. Check out details here and watch the Robojelly in action!

Celebrate Black History Month!

17 02 2012

It’s February & that means it is time to pay tribute to the ground breaking African-American scientists and inventors who made their incredible stamp on the world!

Patricia Bath:
Patricia was born in 1942 in Harlem, New York.

She is the first African-American female to receive a patent for her medical invention, the Laserphaco Probe! The probe has revolutionized cataract surgery around the world (cataracts are clouding that can develop in the eye and makes it very difficult to see). Patricia has set a great path for African-American women working in the medical field by serving on the staff of the UCLA Medical Center, as well as a resident in ophthalmology (anatomy of the eye) at New York University.

Sarah E. Goode:
Sara was born in 1850 as a slave and was later freed after the end of the American Civil War. She then went on to open her own furniture store in Chicago. During the late 1800s, many people did not have enough space in their apartments for beds, so Sarah invented a folding cabinet bed which she received a patent for in July of 1885.

The versatility of the cabinet bed allowed for a space to sleep as well as a desk that could be used for writing or storage. Sarah was the very first African American woman to receive a United States patent!

Rick Kittles:
Rick is an American biologist who was born in Georgia. He specializes in human genetics, specifically tracing African-American ancestry through DNA testing. Keith and his team analyzed DNA from 408 African-Americans in an 18th century graveyard in order to figure out what part of Africa they came from.

Knowing where your family has come from is an incredible story to unfold! How much do you know about your grand parents or great-great grandparents? What country did they come from?

With the help of your family, you can make your own Family Tree! You may be surprised at the results!

Click here to learn more about other amazing scientists, inventors, and ground-breakers in African-American history!

Extra, Extra! Read All About Dinosaurs!

5 01 2012

Even though dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous Period, they’re still making headlines today. Here at the Austin Children’s Museum our feature exhibit, Dinosaurs: Land of Fire and Ice is reaching it’s extinction point; the last day to stomp around with the “terrible lizards” is January 16th. That doesn’t mean that we’ll stop being fascinated by these  ancient creatures. Dinosaur discoveries are happening every day. Here are a few recent news items where dinos and their prehistoric pals made headlines:

Discovery News reports that a “Dinosaur Freeway” has been discovered in Colorado. The 98 million year-old highway consists of over 350 tracks from dinosaurs that traveled along what was then coastal plains. Read all about the discovery and how dinosaurs roamed by clicking this link.

A theropod dino foot from the exhibit.

– Across the pond in Germany, a prehistoric marine reptile from the order Ichthyosauria was found by a private collector looking for fossils alongside a (human) freeway construction site. German newspaper, the Local, describes the importance of the discovery – the newly unearthed reptile lived between 65 and 145 million years ago and up until its discovery, scientists had thought that the Ichthyosauria was extinct by then.

The Smithsonian reports that long before the first paleontologist sat behind a desk studying fossils, mysterious tracks and bones were shaping folklore around the world. As recently as the 1950’s, villagers in small Chinese towns had traded stories about mythical birds and creatures that traveled near the villages and brought good luck. Read the full article to learn how these folktales help paleontologists make new discoveries. 

Come visit the dinosaurs before they become extinct!

– Biologists and engineers at UC Berkeley are learning a thing or two about balance from dinosaurs and modern lizards. The research team tested a hypothesis that theropod dinosaurs used their tails to stabilize themselves while they ran and leaped. Students created a robot, named Tailbot, that uses its tail to keep balance. Find pictures and more information by reading the full article.

– And we’ll close out our dinosaur news cast with a heartwarming human interest story… a 4 year-old Canadian girl has found some internet fame with a video where she analyzes the inaccuracies of a model dinosaur in a toy shop. Her video got special attention from the Canadian Museum of Nature who sent her a more anatomically correct dinosaur model. Watch Stella explain why the triceratops toy is anything but and read about her interest in science over at the Ottowa Citizen’s site.

Brain Movies: Scanning the Visual Cortex

18 11 2011

Imagine if you could watch your dreams and the images inside your head like a movie… seems impossible right?

But recently, with a cutting-edge blend of brain imaging and computer simulation, scientists at the University of California-Berkeley, have gotten closer to this impossible idea.

Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) (brain scans) and a computer, UC Berkeley researchers reconstructed people’s visual experiences. Their computer program recreated an image from inside someone’s mind.

So far, the technology can only reconstruct movie clips people have already viewed. However, the breakthrough is the first step towards reproducing the movies inside our heads that no one else sees, such as dreams and memories. It’s like opening a window into the movies in our minds.

Eventually, the technology could help to understand what goes on inside the minds of people who cannot communicate verbally, such as stroke victims, coma patients or other people with neurodegenerative diseases (loss of brain functions).

In the experiment, they watched two separate sets of Hollywood movie trailers, while fMRI was used to measure blood flow through the visual cortex (the part of the brain that processes visual information). The brain activity was recorded by a computer program that learned to associate visual patterns in the movie with the corresponding brain activity. The computer program then produced a blurry reconstruction of what was seen inside the brain.

Check out the image that was seen (on the left) and the blurry reconstructed image from the computer program (on the right). It looks like a painting, pretty amazing right?

If you find the brain as fascinating as we do, then check out this website: The Secret Life of the Brain they show all the techniques used to look inside the brain, such as the fMRI we mentioned above.

What would your brain movies look like? Would your movie show an action sequence or a cartoon, or something never seen before? Tell us what your brain thinks.

Make Your Own Silent Film

31 10 2011

I bet you like to watch movies, right? But have you ever seen a silent film?

Before there were 3D and Imax movies there were silent movies. These started as short movies that only lasted 30 minutes and only cost 5 cents! The movies would have a piano to go along with the soundless images, and sometimes even a full orchestra. Movies didn’t have sound until around 1927 with the first film “The Jazz Singer” which was called a “talkie“.

Buster Keaton in "Sherlock, Jr." photo by John McNab on Flickr

Until that point, films were silent and had to tell a story without sound. The actors had to be over-dramatic (like when you play charades) in order to tell the story right, they sometimes used heavy makeup too. If something was thought too difficult for the audience to understand, they would use title cards. Title cards were shots of written words that would portray what the actor was saying, or tell of the place they were, or sometimes even tell part of the story.

One of my favorite silent film actors was Buster Keaton. Buster Keaton was a comedian who grew up acting in Vaudeville shows, which were similar to circus acts. His background Vaudeville acting came in handy with his silent film career as a comedian. Buster would perform daring and funny stunts all without the use of sound. He even directed his own silent films!

If you want to be like Buster Keaton and direct your own silent film, all you have to do is make a flipbook. A flipbook is a book which has pictures that vary from page to page, so that when you turn the pages fast it makes an animation.

This is similar to how a film reel works with movies, only they have lots more pictures which are called frames, and are much faster. An easy way to start is to use a writing pad that already has blank pages stacked together. You can start with a title like the silent movies do with their title cards. Then begin your story by drawing something like a stickman, go to the next page and redraw the stickman, but have some part of him be slightly moved, like his legs. Keep drawing, each page a little different and once you flip the pages it looks like he’s walking. Check out our flipbook below:

And tell us how your silent movies turn out!

Odd October Observances

27 10 2011

October isn’t just for Halloween. There are all sorts of bizarre holidays you can celebrate before November gets here.  We all know Halloween is October 31st every year, but did you know there is also a Frankenstein Day?

This year Frankenstein Friday falls on the 28th. Celebrate by dressing up as a monster, or honor the writer and creator of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, and write your own monster story. Can you describe a monster scarier than Frankenstein?

October 30th, isn’t just the day before Halloween, it’s also Candy Corn Day. Did you know that candy corn is actually made with corn? These yummy confections are made with a very precise method using a corn starch molding process.

Photo by ScrambledHenfruit.blogspot.com

And don’t just celebrate Halloween by dressing up. You can also commemorate this day with caramel apples! Caramel apple day falls on Halloween each year, and you can celebrate by making your own caramel apples. Or you can follow our recipe below to make caramel apple cookies!

Have fun with all of these wacky holidays by printing out this neat coloring activity (pictured above): October Holidays Coloring Sheet

Are you still October Obsessed? To get the most out of the end of October, you can also visit the Texas Memorial Museum Oct. 30th for their Fright at the Museum event. You can explore the mysterious side of Texas’ natural history. Feel frightful fish from the ocean depths, be rattled by slithery snakes of Central Texas. Feast your eyes on bizarre bugs while they serve up creepy, crawly critters for your culinary delight.

Have an odd October!

And follow the link below for instructions on how to make your own caramel apple cookies

Read the rest of this entry »


13 10 2011

with my little eye… A FUN CRAFT!

Have you ever been bored on a road trip? Then you’ve probably played the I-Spy game. I-Spy is a guessing game, sometimes played in cars, where the fun is in the observation. There are many variations of the game, and right now at ACM, our newest favorite is the I-Spy Bottle. This fun craft is extremely easy to make and the possibilities of I-Spy combinations are endless!

Here’s the first one we made using random objects, an old water bottle, and plain white rice:

Some tips for making the bottle:

  • Gather items that you know will fit through the opening of the bottle
  • Use a funnel or make a paper one, so the filler (the rice) doesn’t spill
  • Try to add the filler and the objects in increments so the objects don’t all lump together
  • You can hot glue gun the top of the bottle if you want to avoid the contents spilling out in the excitement of I-Spying

You can make all sorts of themes with your I-Spy Bottles, use shells for an ocean theme, or creepy objects for a Halloween one. You can even vary the types of fillers you use: rice, pasta, beans, birdseed, lentils, beads, sand… it all works.

If you want to add another fun step in your I-Spy Bottle creation, try dyeing the filler you use, Momtastic has a great tutorial for coloring rice (it works on beans, pasta, and lentils too!) maybe you could make a rainbow themed bottle?

We even made a Dino-Spy Bottle in honor of our exhibit Dinosaurs: Land of Fire and Ice! Check it out:

We used assorted beans to represent soil. It looks like the tiny triceratops is being excavated from the rocky remains!

Tell us how your bottles turned out, what theme did you choose?


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