Archive for the ‘Physics’ Category
Remember the game Mouse Trap? For those of you not familiar with it, Mouse Trap is a board game in which players build a contraption, using various tools and materials, in order to capture a toy mouse on the run. Players often build creative, elaborate traps that operate in various stages, with each distinct stage setting off a another. The game is based on the concept behind Rube-Goldberg machines, devices that perform a very simple task but require an elaborate chain reaction to operate between start and finish. Just like in Rube-Goldberg machines, the value of Mouse Trap is very much in the journey, not the destination.
Now, imagine an even larger version of this game, without the mouse. This is the MIT Museum’s annual Friday After Thanksgiving: Chain Reaction event. Aptly shortened to F.A.T. for the Friday After Thanksgiving, the event is an innovative way to get families out and about after Thursday night’s collective feasting. This year, the Chain Reaction took place at the Rockwell Cage Gymnasium on MIT’s campus and was attended by approximately 2,000 people.
Here’s how it works. Each year, the MIT Museum invites its community to join the event as spectators or participants. Participants and teams build individual sections of a larger chain reaction. The aim is to be as creative as possible, and believe me when I say that participants take this creative license very seriously. Upon strolling around the basketball court-sized area set aside for the entire machine, I spotted everything from action figures, straws, water balloons, Arduino robots, monkey wrenches, bicycle wheels, legos, Daleks, and yes–even mouse traps.
Because the event is open to anybody and everybody, participants every year range from Girl Scout troops to artists and engineers, from MIT clubs to high schools and family teams. Teams have also come from as far away as Michigan and California to contribute. This year, artist/inventor Arthur Ganson and local artist/MIT alumnus Jeff Lieberman both emceed the event.
The F.A.T. Chain Reaction event is not only a creative way to get the family together during the Thanksgiving holiday season, but it’s also an opportunity for kids (ages one to ninety-two) to engage and experiment with the basics of engineering. Who knows? Perhaps participating could set off a chain reaction that results in even more collaborative citizen science in your future.
You can view a live video of the 2012 Chain Reaction below (2013 video forthcoming):
Lily Bui is the Executive Editor of SciStarter and holds dual degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works in public media at WGBH-TV and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Boston, MA. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.
Most of us live in fear of what we don’t know. In science, however, the Unknown is exactly what keeps us hooked. Even the most revered physicist of all time (I’m talking about Einstein, of course) had a little trouble explaining the universe at times, calling what we now know as entanglement in quantum mechanics “spooky action at a distance.” The Unknown can be spooky, indeed, but with citizen scientists in hot pursuit of knowledge and data, we can collectively un-entangle scientific mysteries that come our way this Halloween.
This holiday brings out the dark, the macabre, and the sometimes inexplicable. We put on costumes to temporarily assume roles that we usually don’t play in our normal lives. Here are some Halloween-themed citizen science “costumes,” or roles, that you can don this October.
1. Extraterrestrial Tracker
Astronomy and Space
SETI Live, Zooniverse, NASA
Are we alone? With an ever-expanding, vast universe beyond our tiny blue planet, SETI thinks not. SETI Live is a citizen science project (part of Zooniverse) that invites you to help scan astral objects for radio waves and signals that might be transmitted by extraterrestrial life. The Allen Telescope Array (a name that looks conveniently like “Alien Telescope Array” from afar) scans the skies and sends data back to the SETI Live website, where citizen scientists are able to help sift through information and classify stars with exoplanets.
Or, if you’d rather Be A Martian this Halloween, you can do that, too! On this highly interactive site, you can create Martian profiles to become “citizens” of the planet. (We like to think of it as citizen scientist-ship.) You can count craters, ask questions about Mars in the forum, and tag photos taken by the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the Curiosity’s predecessors, with descriptions of what you see. No matter where you land on this site, your experience is destined to be out of this world.
2. ZomBee Watcher
Nature and Animals
San Francisco State University Dept. of Biology, SFSU Ctr. for Computer for Life Sciencies, Natural History Museum of LA County
The ZomBee apocalypse is upon us! Run—or buzz your way—to Zombee Watch! Researchers suspect that the parasitic fly Apocephalus borealis is responsible for infecting large populations of honeybees. The fly lays eggs inside the body of honeybees, which then serve as incubators. As the eggs grow, they suck up nutrients from their bee hosts. The hosts become disoriented as their bodies change from within, often leading them astray from their natural habitats. Eventually, newborn fly larvae crawl out of the honeybee’s body and grow into adult flies, beginning the cycle all over again. Citizen scientists can contribute to ZomBee Watch by helping collect sick-looking or dead bee specimens to observe whether parasitic pupae emerge. See what the buzz is about.
3. Vital Signs
Nature, Animals, and Plants
Vital Signs Maine
When distinguishing the un-dead from the living, it’s important to look for the right Vital Signs. This citizen science project brings scientists and novices together to investigate invasive species in Maine. Are certain ecosystems at risk of being overrun by invasive plants and/or animals? Participants can help scientists observe both invasive and native species by taking photographs, then entering data into the online application. The site provides helpful how-to guides for those just starting out and offers a huge database of observations made by other citizen scientists.
4. Secret Agent (Sci)Spy
Nature, Animals, and Plants
Science Channel (Discovery)
Our mobile technology today is analogous to the gadgets of Hollywood’s most sophisticated spies. Use your spy cameras (or phone cameras) to spy on nature and contribute to science. Created by Science Channel (Discovery), SciSpy enlists agents to document the natural world of their backyards, parks, cities, and towns. Report back to base by sharing photos and observations and contribute to research initiatives that rely especially on amateur participation. This project is sure to leave you both shaken and stirred.
Paleontological Research Institution, Cornell Dept. of Education
Dig deep into the past with Fossil Finders and uncover hidden clues about human history. Participants will help paleontologists from the Paleontological Research Institution identify and measure fossils in rock samples from central New York, enter their data into an online database, and compare their data with the data of other schools. Local participants can sign up for trips to important sites, whereas online participants can engage in virtual tours. Fossil Finders’ learn-by-doing approach to science unearths a sea of knowledge for those who contribute.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science
If you find yourself hording sweets this Halloween, perhaps this next project is just your flavor. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science, supported by the Science Education Partnership from the National Center for Research Resources and National Institutes of Health, has spearheaded a project called the Genetics of Taste: A Flavor for Health. The study aims to increase public understanding of genetic research, while also making strides to better understand the genetic ancestry of the gene Tas2r38, which dictates the ability to taste bitter, and its affect on the health of modern day humans. Don’t mind lending your taste buds to science (after consuming all that Halloween candy)? The opportunities are so tangible, you can almost, well, taste it.
7. Ghost Hunter
Smart Phone Apps
Photo credit: USGS.gov
Earlier this year, Professor Fabian Bustamente of Northwestern University developed an experimental augmented reality Android phone app that allowed users to participate in citizen science while simultaneously playing a game. Participants “zapped” ghosts that showed up on a map of their surrounding area by taking photographs, which were then stitched together into panoramic shots. Commentators believe that augmented reality apps like these could pave the way for future mobile app-based citizen science.
8. Bat Detective
Nature and Animals
Here’s a citizen science project that gives you a glimpse into the lives of these creatures of the night. Bats, nocturnal creatures, are very hard to spot with the naked eye. This project enlists the help of citizen scientists to screen over 3,000 hours of acoustic surveys of bats’ calls, which researchers believe “leak” information about their behavior into the environment each night through echolocation. These classifications will later be used to create a new algorithm to help researchers more easily extract information from their sound recordings to monitor threatened bat populations.
While Hallow’s Eve has you captivated by the curios, be sure to stay curious too! With these citizen science projects, it’s all treat, no tricks. Make sure to visit SciStarter to find over 500 more citizen science projects!
In December 2010, as people on Earth celebrated the holidays and prepared to ring in the New Year, a European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA spacecraft quietly reached its own milestone: on December 26, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) discovered its 2000th comet.
Drawing on help from citizen scientists around the world, SOHO has become the single greatest comet finder of all time. This is all the more impressive since SOHO was not designed to find comets, but to monitor the Sun.
“Since it launched on December 2, 1995, to observe the Sun, SOHO has more than doubled the number of comets for which orbits have been determined over the last three hundred years,” says Joe Gurman, the U.S. project scientist for SOHO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Of course, it is not SOHO itself that discovers the comets — that is the province of the dozens of amateur astronomer volunteers who daily pore over the images produced by SOHO’s LASCO (or Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph) cameras. More than 70 people representing 18 different countries have helped spot comets over the last 15 years by searching through the publicly available SOHO/LASCO images online. The 1999th and 2000th comets were both discovered by an astronomy student at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.
“There’s an ever-growing community of amateur astronomers who contribute to this project,” says Karl Battams, who has been in charge of running the SOHO comet-sighting web site since 2003 for the Naval Research Laboratory, where he does software development, data processing, and visualization work for NRL’s solar physics missions. “These volunteers are absolutely fundamental to the success of this program. Without them, most of this tremendously valuable astronomical data would never see the light of day.”
As summer comes to a close, a young person’s fancy may turn to fretting at the thought of being cooped up in a classroom. But for fans of science and nature—and by that we mean kids who like to watch clouds, hunt mushrooms, prowl around graveyards, and check out what gets squashed on the side of the road—fall need not signal the end of fun.
To keep young minds entertained as well as enlightened, we recommend the following 10 back-to-school projects for student citizen scientists. Teachers and parents, please note: Many of these programs provide materials around which you can build lessons. And there are lots more where these came from. Visit our Project Finder for a full list of citizen science projects for primary and secondary school students.
World Water Monitoring Day: World Water Monitoring Day is an international program that encourages citizen volunteers to monitor their local water bodies. An easy-to-use test kit enables everyone from children to adults to sample local water bodies for basic water quality parameters: temperature, acidity (pH), clarity (turbidity), and dissolved oxygen. Though World Water Monitoring Day is officially celebrated on September 18, the monitoring window is extended to cover the period from March 22 (World Water Day) until December 31. Check out what one of our members said about the project.
School of Ants: Join North Carolina State University researchers in a citizen-scientist driven study of the ants that live in urban areas, particularly around homes and schools. Collection kits are available to anyone interested in participating. Teachers, students, parents, kids, junior-scientists, senior citizens and enthusiasts of all stripes are involved in collecting ants in schoolyards and backyards using a standardized protocol so that project coordinators can make detailed maps of the wildlife that lives just outside their doorsteps.
The Albedo Project: Wherever you are – anywhere in the world – on September 23th, contribute to science by taking a photo of a blank white piece of paper, outside in the sun, between 4:00 and 7:00 pm local time. Your photo will used to to help students measure how much of the sun’s energy is reflected back from the Earth — our planet’s “albedo.” It’s one way scientists can monitor how much energy – and heat – is being absorbed by our planet.
Students’ Cloud Observations On-Line (S’COOL): Report your observations of clouds—their shapes, height, coverage, and related conditions—so that NASA scientists can compare them with data from weather satellites passing over your area. Tutorials and observing guides are available for students. For teachers, the program provides lesson plans, charts, and advice on related educational standards.
Physics Songs: Physics Songs aims to be the world’s premier website devoted to collecting and organizing all songs about physics. It is managed by Walter F. Smith, Professor of Physics at Haverford College. Songs about physics can help students to remember critical concepts and formulas, but perhaps more importantly they communicate the lesson that physics can be fun.
Wherever you are – anywhere in the world – on June 21st consider taking and submitting a photo of a blank white piece of paper between 5:00 and 8:00 pm.
Your photo will not be just a picture of a pretty white piece of paper, it will be scientific data used to calculate earth’s albedo – the proportion of solar energy that bounces back out to space when it hits the Earth’s surface.
For three years Dr. Kathleen Gorski and her students at Wilbraham and Monson Academy near Springfield, MA have been snapping pictures of white paper and using them to measure albedo by comparing the white paper to the surrounding ground surface.
Now they are opening the project up to anyone who would like to participate!
Here’s how you can get involved:
- Stick a reminder in your calendar for Tuesday June 21, 2011 between 5:00-8:00 pm so that you don’t forget. (Note: I added this step to Kathleen’s instructions because I know I will need a reminder!)
- Put a white card (index or business cards work well) on any ground surface with the white side facing up.
- Snap a digital photo. No particular position for the camera is required. Just hold it, look down, and take the shot. (Kathleen has found that any camera will do – a cell phone or SLR will both work. And any resolution will be fine.)
- Email the photo to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 5. Include the location (either your city and state or your latitude and longitude).
Kathleen and her students will analyze the data, comparing the response of the white card to the response of the ground surface in each photograph using ImageJ software and will depict the data points on a map. They will be posting the results this summer or fall on a new project website, and Kathleen will be presenting about the project to teachers at the National Science Teachers Association meeting in Hartford, CT in the fall.