October 22, 2007

Low budget alternative to Zometool

Some of our mathemathics activities include the use of Zometool. Zometool is a great tool for a variety of construction activities, and I am sure many of you are familiar with the toy. To be able to build freely, you need a variety of the sticks available, and that might be to expensive for some of you. But don't worry, there is a cheap alternative!

I visited Innlandet Science Center a couple of weeks ago, and there they used coctail sticks and peas instead. It is not as solid as Zometool, but it works great. Better than spaghetti and marshmellows/hotglue, as many are familiar with. So if your need a low-cost building tool, try this one. It is the best one I've seen so far.

October 03, 2007

A busy Science Week

The annual Science Days has come to an end, and it was a long stretch for us at the Science Center. We had two successful days at the Science Faire in Tromsø, and our booth was awarded as the second best presentation. A total of 5000 people visited the Faire these two days.

Our stall presented some simple ice experiments, focusing on the increasing meltdown of the Arctic icecap. And kids and adult alike could make their own UV critter for free. Luckily it was two sunny days, and the kids were running around outside the tent after visiting us, to test their UV beads.

SciencePub, a collaborative Polar Year science project between geologists, archeologists and science centers, shared the second place with us. Being a member of the SciencePub project, it was a tribute to us as well. They had a sandbox where kids could excavate real archeological items found in Northern Norway.

The winner was Medical Faculty, bringing a infrared camera to the Faire. I want one for our Science center! It is an excellent way to display the difference in temperature between the body core and the limbs. I am one of those with constant cold hands and feet, and this cam clearly visualize that I have cold feet and a warm heart.

The week after we visited another faire at Finnsnes, with the same topics as in Tromsø. We also visited a TechFest at Skjervøy the same week, where all 4th and 10th graders in five counties were offered a variety of science activities in one day.

September 09, 2007

Giant critters at Science Fair

In two weeks time we are attending the annual Science Days (Forskningsdagene 2007), celebrated across Norway. We are doing lots of outreach work during the 8 day festival, visiting Longyearbyen at Svalbard, Høgtun, Heggelia, Skjervøy and Finnsnes, joining the two day Science Faire in Tromsø and arranging Researcher's Night at the Science Center.

The main topic this year is Melting ice - climate change. We are focusing on Melting ice, doing ice-related experiments with the kids. And we are focusing on pollution, the ozone layer and UV radiation. Everyone visiting us at the Faire in Tromsø and in Finnsnes, can build and keep their own UV critter. The University of Tromsø and Nysgjerrigper/The Norwegian Research Counsil are sponsors of the UV beads. Thanks!

To prepare our contribution to the Faires, I have been busy today preparing some decorations and large scale instructional critters. It was much more laborous to complete than the normal size UV animals, but I had fun doing it. And I think the giant critters (named UVar and Åmund) turned out rather well, and quite alike the original instructional drawing made by Anne. The bigger ones have "bead" size 5 cm, the smaller ones 3 cm. In the middle you see the original UV critter, made by UV sensitive ponybeads, and the material pack we will offer at the Fair.

September 05, 2007

Gunda the Dragon

These days I am busy preparing a chemistry program for young kids (age 4-9). It is inspired by a program developed and used by Navet in Borås, Sweden. They have for several years now had a program called "Do chemistry with Berta the Dragon". They start with story telling about Berta and her doing an experiment. Then they do the experiment with the kids. Afterwards they go to the laboratory and do some more experiments, after dressing up with real lab coats. They presented Berta at the Ecsite conference in Lisbon in June, and their presentation can be found here. Berta has been a huge success for Navet and they are now publishing books about her (in several languages).

I am developing a similar program to use locally, using a dragon (for now, it might be changed to a different creature), but creating my own setting and select my own experiments. I didn't want to photocopy the Navet version, rather bring to it some of my own personality and interests.

My dragon is called Gunda and she has a baby brother called Georg. Gunda loves the action of chemistry, while Georg is a bit nervous and prefers to deal with numbers. Georg is part of a math project, which is being developed by my colleague Anne. Using puppets and drama is one of the elements we wish to bring into many of our programs, because research from Britain shows that kids up to 12 gets a better learning experience when puppets are added as a learning tool.

Gunda and Georg are Tellatale puppets from The Wooden Gnome Store. I have made some modifications to Gunda to make her blow flames. If you wish to know how-to, drop me a note. On the photo to the right I am doing one of my first pyrotechnique tests. Anne is the blixtlight speed photographer here. The action takes just parts of a second, and is difficult to catch on film. The flame was four times longer at its maximum. This ought to impress the youngsters, and motivate them to learn some chemistry.

I will let you in on the details when I am finished with the whole thing. It will be launched at a school visit in Lavangen the second week of October, and at a seminar in Bodø just days later.
Update: If you wish to buy puppets, Living Puppets and Alveslottet (norwegian) are excellent sites too. Living Puppets also offer custom made puppets, if you want your own unique puppet.

August 29, 2007

"Anti-helium" at The Tonight Show

Everyone knows the effect of helium gas. Who hasn't inhaled a party balloon and had fun talking like Donald Duck? Kids today are at least familiar with this phenomenon.

At Jay Leno a couple of months ago, Josh Duhamel demonstrated the behaviour of a different gas heavier than the components of air. He described it as "anti-helium", the correct name is SF 6 (Sulfur Hexafluoride). This is a nice demonstration at science shows. The gas is harmless to people (in moderate doses), but harms the ozone layer. So please consider the risks for the environment if you wish to use this demo.

August 26, 2007

Make a glowing tomato

I just saw this amazing video made by The Shooting Eggs Production, and I can't wait to try it for myself. It does not look like a fake to me. It requires three household chemicals, match phosphorus, bleach and hydrogen peroxide. The chemicals have to be strong, though (according to a comment to the video), so take care with your hands and your eyes if you want to give it a go.

August 12, 2007

Happy birthday LEGO!

Last Friday was the 75th birthday of the danish toy company LEGO. I have played with the bricks since I was a toddler, and still enjoy to play with them, both with my son and at work. This summer I visited Legoland Billund with my family, and my son claimed it had been the best day of his life! I must admit, I enjoyed it tremendeously as well. We were the last people to leave when they closed....

For those of you who haven't stopped playing with LEGO, and wish to try something new (as I do), check these links I found at the Make:blog:

And finally; the top 10 strangest creations in Lego, as nominated by the Tech Blog staff

Round two failed

It was reported from work around July 20th that 6 eggs had hatched. I returned to work a couple of days later and found an empty nest. We don't know what has happened, but we believe that other birds have visited the nestbox and robbed the chicken (meaning; food). Anyone out there who knows more about this than me?

July 05, 2007

Round two in the nestbox

The Great Tits have started a second round in our nestbox. This morning it was reported from work that six eggs had been observed, and there is a chance they were laid yesterday. Most of us are away on vacation these days, so the observations will be less frequent this time. But we are hoping for the best for the brave parents.

June 26, 2007


Living in a country stretching 1800 km North-South, with a very elongated form, comprising fjords and mountains, most Norwegians are very concerned about the weather. The weather varies a lot, and the regional differences are often extensive. Where I come from, we are used to having three seasons in a day, every day. It is just the way it is - and we have a saying sounding something like this: "There is no bad weather, only bad clothes". If you will see this yourself; take a look at our local university's weathercam. At this site you will find years of weather statistics and great time-lapse videos.

Because of our above-average interest of the weather, we have a topic at the Science Centre called "Climate and weather". We have just started developing teaching material within this topic, and will spend some time testing and improving this. Last fall we bought a weather station from Davis called Vantage Pro2, and because of ground frost we had to wait until this summer to install it. Only last weekend we managed to get it running, and now during the first Science Club week we are testing it for the first time. Marte and I spent several days last week making a visual display to accompany the indoor panel to the weather station. We made a board where the kids can display their weather readings from the last 24 hours and a map of Northern Norway where they can create their own weather forecast.
Other science centres with more money at hand than we have, have hi-tech versions of this, with a professional TV studio with blue-screen technology. Although we could wish for something sophisticated like that, we are still pleased with our homemade pre-tech version.

The final peep-show

Being busy preparing our summer science club, I have not written about our nest box since the tragic, yet natural events taking place almost two weeks ago. After loosing three young ones the parents managed to rear the four chicken left, and they all survived until they could leave the nest. They grew remarkably fast, although there were huge differences between them. The two birds sitting closest to the box opening seemed to get more food than the modest ones at the back of the nest, and they were obviously developing at a different pace. As soon as they got feathers they started polishing them and flap their wings.

Last week the big ones started peeping out the hole, clinging onto the wall, flapping their wings or simply standing on eachothers heads. And Friday the two bold ones were gone, leaving the two minors to guard the nest. Next morning they too had flown the nest, and fortunately we got takes of these two nestlings trials and successful escapes. The last three days (22/6, 21/7) of film is now finally up at our website, but we still have hours of raw footage to edit of the days prior to the 21st.

Next year we intend to copy this attempt, and do some improvements to the nest box to get better live and still pictures. But we will not, even if it was a fun project, copy a Norwegian bird show from 2003. A Norwegian guy called Sten Magne Klann made a number of nest boxes decorated in a special manner, and took some adorable art shots of them. The photographs ended as an exhibition at Bogstad in Oslo called "Piip-show". A web-based version was also launched, and got huge hit rates both from Norway and the rest of the world.

The UV Animal

With July a few days away, here is a craft activity with a scientific twist. From a number of science toys dealers you can buy pony beads sensitive to UV light. I have bought mine from Educational Innovations - 240 beads for $6.95. Out of the sun they are white, and when they are in the sun they change to various colours like yellow, orange, red, purple and blue. This is an excellent reminder to use suntan lotion if you have tender skin like me.

The webshops suggests making a simple bracelet of the beads, and that works well with small kids. For kids aged 7 and up (and boys who don't want to use bracelets), a colleague of mine, Anne Bruvold, has made a different product of the pony beads. She has called it "The UV Animal" (UVdyret), and here is a description of how to make it:

You need 25 UV beads, 2 normal pony beads (for eyes) and 70 cm elastic band. Start at the tail end, tread one bead onto the elastic band and make sure the two ends are of the same length. Continue with the next beads as the drawing underneath shows, and take care to get the body and the legs assembled correctly. If you want to make the animal with beads of specific colours, take them outdoors to "activate" them before you choose which ones to use. Good luck!
I have made a number of these and have attached them to bags and rucksacs. You can also put it on your throusers, like this boy has done.

June 14, 2007

Horror show

Nature is harsh! The last couple of days there has been a dramatic reduction of the number of chicken in the nest. From the original seven, they dropped to six, then five and the third day there were only four young ones.

What has happened to the dead ones has been an enigma. I saw one chicken being carried out by a parent, and the day after I was able to catch on film an even more bizarre episode. As the day before, one of the parents tried to bring a dead chicken outside, but was unable to get it out. After a long fight to succeed, it gave up and tilted the dead one back into the nest. And apparently it then started eating from it. If you want to see this for yourself, you can find the movie here.

Warning; may not be suitable for sensitive adults - kids seem to cope with this in a more natural way! (According to my 7 year old son who was with me when this happened, calling me a sissy!)

June 11, 2007

Real life in a nest box

Yesterday I checked the nestbox and was a bit worried about one of the chicken. It was smaller and weaker than the others, and was not able to fight with its siblings to grab the food. The parents seemed a bit disturbed, they came into the box multiple times without bringing any food, as if they were stressed about something.

And sad to say, my worries were justified. When I came to work this morning, I could only count six chicken. It was rainy today, and rather poor light conditions inside the box, so I could only count their open beaks when the parents brought them food. So I concluded that one of the chicken had died. And at two o'clock this was confirmed. I could not get it on tape, but one of the parents suddenly grabbed the dead chicken (which was still inside the nestbox) in its beak and carried it outside. It was a tough battle for the adult, it seemed almost to heavy and to bulky to bring through the drilled hole, and it had to try several times before it succeded.

It was sad and rather weird to be an eye witness to this, which probably happens each year in most nests. Being human I've got at weak spot for this small family, even if I know they are simple creatures which don't have feelings the way people do. And I hope the rest of them survives, at least long enough to leave the nest and see the world outside their small closure.

June 08, 2007

Seven hungry chicken to feed

According to our information, the eggs in our nest box would hatch some time between the 29th of May and the 3rd of June. This was a bit problematic because the whole staff was going to Lisbon from the 31st to the 3rd. So we got ourselves a couple of babysitters, Kristin and Jørgen worked on shift monitoring the nest box while we were away.

The eggs hatched sometime between the afternoon of the 31st and the morning the 1st. Kristin came at eight o'clock and found 7 chicken and one egg, and sent us an sms right away. Imagine how proud we were, and a bit sad because we weren't there to see it for ourselves! :)

Since then we've monitored them closely, and taken films and photographs daily. They change remarkably from day to day, and now being one week old they have huge problems cramming into the tiny nest. The last egg never hatched, and it was probably the one that was laid last. Shortly after the hatching this last egg disappeared, and we don't know if it was removed from the nest or simply eaten. I've read elsewhere that the female adult eat the egg shells after hatching, probably to refill her calcium reserves.

It is quite funny to watch the live footage. And we've got some press coverage lately because of it. Both the local papers has stories about it in their net editions; called "Are you ready for Bird Brother" (why didn't we come up with this title ourselves!) and "A close look at the Great Tit". The University of Tromsø has linked to us with the heading "Songbird reality-TV" and even our national TV has written about it with the title "Busy Great Tit Mom".

Because we don't have a live webcam, you can't take a look at the action right now. But we have a number of films from the nest at our official webpage for your amusement. For those of you who don't understand Norwegian; to see the latest film - click at the photo. Older films are linked underneath; ordered by date. For still photos, take a look at this page.
If there are other monitored nestboxes out there, it would be cool if you could send me a note about it. I know of a few, mostly in Norway; here is a list:
Mobil blogg (Blue Tit, only still photos, in Swedish)
Tårnfrid-kassen (Falcon, live webcam, in Norwegian)
Midttun skole (Great Tit in Bergen, weekly films, Norwegian)
Blåmeishybelen (Blue Tit, video, stills, Norwegian)
Familien Selander (Great Tit, video, photos, Norwegian, links to other pages)
If you know of other pages, I will add them to the list.

May 30, 2007

18th Ecsite Annual Conference

Tomorrow my colleagues and I will attend the Ecsite Conference in Lisbon. I look forward to days filled with inspiring talks about Science Center topics, and hope to bring back home some new ideas for a small Science Center up north. I also look forward to meeting Science Center colleagues from Europe and elsewhere. If you are going there, and are reading this, I would love to meeting you there!

Blinky Mosquito 1st edition

The other day I made the Blinky Mosquito I had planned to. It turned out rather well, but I will change the design a bit to make it easier for small hands to make. I soldered all the electronic, and used string to attach the legs and the wings (because I didn't have any glue available, will use hotglue next time). I tried using a pantyhose to make the wings more correct, drawing veins onto it. But my string was to soft, and the wings collapsed. So for the next time, the string must be less flexible. If you have any suggestions to modifications, please send me a note :)

May 22, 2007

Life in a nest box

There has been major changes in our nest box since I last wrote about it. A few days after we had put it up in the tree, we had to do some changes. The battery supply turned out to be unsufficient, and we had supply the camera with a wired supply instead. When doing this, we discovered a nest in the box, and got both excited and worried. Would our fixin' make the birds leave the nest? But luckily, the birds stayed and we got great images from the tiny home. It was a couple of Great Tits (I can't believe I just wrote that!) that had settled down at our humble extension of the Planetarium.

Ok, this was May 9th. One week later we discovered the first eggs, and right now there are eight of them. One bird stays with the eggs almost constantly, while the other one brings food to the nesting one. According to experts we can expect hatching after 13-17 days, which means at the end of the month or early June. Exciting days ahead!

May 21, 2007

Back from a week in Lofoten

Last week I toured the Lofoten islands, with the topic "Soldering certificate". The new Science theme "T&D" requires skills new to Norwegian kids, and soldering is one of them. To be able to design, make and evaluate their own electronics, they need the basic skills and then some!

One of the schools I visited, where my former teacher Åse Karlsen is the headmaster, has written about the event at their homepage. It is in Norwegian, but is accompanied with a set of photos for everyone to enjoy.

May 09, 2007

The International Polar Year

March 1st the International Polar Year was launched, running till March 1st 2009. IPY is a large scientific programme organized through the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

It is actually the fourth Polar Year, the previous ones were in 1882-3, 1932-3, and 1957-8. And this time the workforce and money put into it is bigger scaled than ever. More than 200 projects, 50 000 researchers and 60 countries are collaborating to give us new knowledge about the atmosphere, ice, land, oceans, people and space. It's a long year, you might say, but it is two years on purpose. This way the scientists will get two field seasons both in the Arctic and the Antarctic.

IPY has four headlines or urgencies as they call it; Changing Snow and Ice, Global Linkages, Neighbours in the North and Discovery.

In addition to the research program, IPY also focuses on public awareness and education. Lots of activities are launched at the international site, and also at various national sites (Norway, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Russia, Spain, Sweden, United States, others).

My Science Center is involved in a project called SciencePub, focusing on "Arctic Natural Climate and Environmental Changes and Human Adaptation: From Science to Public awareness".

Right now the scientist are working in the field both on land and at sea, in Norway, Russia, Greenland, the Fram Strait and Svalbard. At the end of September the results from this first field season should start coming, and I will report more from SciencePub then.

May 08, 2007

Bill Gates Trust Fund secures the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

The region of my Science Center is the largest in Norway. Situated in Tromsø, our region reaches 1200 km south, 900 km east and 1800 km north of Tromsø. Our region covers 30% of Norway's land area, but only 10% of the population. To the north we have to travel two hours by plane, if we wish to visit the local school at Longyearbyen, situated at 78 degrees North at the Svalbard archipelago. Going there we need to pay attention to the cold and dark winters, and the Polar Bear. But despite the harsh conditions, it is a wonderful place to be. There is nothing like it, and you have to see it for yourself, I do not know how to describe it the way it deserves to.

Svalbard has had some news coverage lately. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, nicknamed the "Doomsday Vault" by the media, is being built as we speak, outside Longyearbyen at an abandoned mine. The Arctic Seed Vault will rescue and store 95% of the biological diversity of the world's food crops, and will function as a backup for many of the international gene banks around the world. Several gene banks are vulnerable because of inadequate maintenance capacity, natural disasters or conflicts.

The Seed Vault is organized and run by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which has recieved £ 16.8 million from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and £ 4.2 million in matching funds from the Minestry of Foreign Affairs. This is sufficient to deposit 450 000 distinct seed samples in the Svalbard Vault, securing 21 of the world's most important food crops. The Trust was founded by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and Biodiversity International, aiming to conserve the biological diversity of food crops in developing countries.

Nest box with a peep hole

Last week I built a nest box for the Science Center. It was the ordinary type, with a drilled opening suitable for Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca/Svarthvit fluesnapper) and Great Tit (Parus major/Kjøttmeis). But I did one change to the prototype, I made it 10 cm taller to make room for a wireless webcam.

The plan is to monitor the life inside a birdcage and display it on our official webpage. But to succeed, a squatter has to like the facilities we offer, and not destroy the surveilance camera we have put inside.

Instead of using a regular webcam, we decided to purchase a special surveilance camera. It is tiny (3 x 2 cm), runs on a 9V battery and works well with low light conditions. And hopefully it will tolerate the varying conditions outdoors. The drawback is; it is an analog camera. We need to process the signal to make a digital version for the web, and right now we are waiting for the right gadget to arrive by mail. Hopefully it will work when we get it. And hopefully we will fix it before the (if any) action starts outside. We are a bit late. The breeding season is just around the corner, if it hasn't started already. We are crossing our fingers for a pair of latecomers, who will find our accomodation suitable to hatch at.

May 01, 2007

Blinkybugs, my first attempt at making one

The other day I made my first blinkybug. All I want to do now, is make another one and improve my own design.

But what is a blinkybug?

I first read about them in Make: magazine and thought they were SO cute. Just recently I was reminded of them when I read about them in the Make: blog, with a link to a site called Instructables. The version described here is a simplified soldering-free one, and is said to take ten minutes to make if you have everything you need ready and handy. I must admit, I spent more time doing it. But I did some detours on the way. I checked the inventor Ken Murphy's own site called Blinkybug.com, and studied the photos of the various versions he had made. I decided to go for the soldered version, but I didn't have a battery holder. To manage the soldering without the battery holder, I realized (after some trial and error) that I would need three hands, and I had no one around to lend me one extra. After some testing with the two I have I decided to go for hotglue instead. My bug didn't look as good as Ken Murphy's ones, but I thought it was ok, considering it being my first trial.
I will certainly make more of these, and will also try to come up with some alternative designs. A sub-arctic mosquito needs to be made, being the most numerous animal in Samiland (within my Science Center's region), and outbeating the reindeer multiple times. That would be a nice signature blinkybug for the Science Center of Northern Norway. I will keep you posted on how it works out. There are some photos of blinkybug(s) at Flickr, and the creativity is great out there!

If you want to try to make one yourself, just use the decription at Instructables. I will try the soldered version, and have found battery holders at Elfa (Northern Europe Electronics Supplier). You also get cheaper batteries here, if you buy a bulk of ten or 40 you save a lot.
If you know of other serious, cheap and swift suppliers worldwide, please send me a note about it.

April 27, 2007

Speedmonster, the toy that sparks creativity

Technology and design is a new topic in the school curriculum here in Norway. At the Science Center we have a toy construction activity for the mid-level classes called Speedmonster. The activity is designed by Elisabeth Kanebog and Marte Karidatter Skadsem, as a collaboration between "Den kulturelle skolesekken" and the Science Center. Elisabeth is an art teacher excelling in design and the design process and Marte is our tech expert in the house. Speedmonster is partially based upon old mechanical toys and the activity is divided in three parts;
  • learning the history and technology of toys
  • learning and doing the design process
  • making, testing and improving the toys
The Speedmonster is a half sphere made from Cernit clay (or similar), with a hole either at the front, the top or the back. Use a small bowl (8-10 cm across) underneath to get the shape right. Cut away excess clay and make sure you have a thicker layer of clay on the sides, to fit the two screws placed on each side underneath the shell, before the shell is baked in an oven. The shell will crack if you try to screw the screws into the clay after it has hardened in the oven.

As you can see on the photo to the right, the mechanichs is a set of wheels with a small piece of wood glued between them. The wheels are attached to the monstershell via rubberbands, glued to the wheels as well. To make sure the rubberbands are firmly attached to the wheels, put a matchstick with glue on in between the two rubber ends. After the glue has dried and hardened, cut off the part of the matchstick sticking out of the wheel hole.
Tie a piece of thread onto the wheels and push the end out of the hole you've drilled in the shell. Attach a small object to the end of the thread, preferably something you've made of the clay, fitting your Speedmonster design.
If you have problems making the Speedmonster walk properly, cut small bands out of a balloon and make rubber tires on the wheels. And if you still can't make it walk, improve your design and make another one! Be creative!
The activity has been a huge success for us, and all the kids have loved it, even if some of them left us with a broken, non-working toy. Their designs have been very creative, it is amazing what they produce. We will continue having the Speedmonster on our activity program, and will offer this to the local schools next spring. If you are interested in more information about the Speedmonster, and live outside Tromsø, I'd be happy to let you in on our tips and tricks, as well as the design protocol.

April 22, 2007

Earth Day and World Environment Day

Today the 22nd of April is Earth Day, and has been so since 1970, when it was initiated by Gaylord Nelson, a United States Senator from Wisconsin. (Not to be cunfused with the United Nations Earth Day, celebrated each year on the vernal (March) equinox.) According to Wikipedia April 22nd is celebrated by 500 million people in 175 countries. I must admit, I had not heard of the day until today. Reading the news of a Norwegian newspaper, I became aware of the way Google celebrated the day. Their logo today is a sinking iceberg, and by clicking the logo you get a list of hits as if you had seached for "Earth Day". Top ranked is the Earth Day Network, a nonprofit organisation coordinating the events worldwide. They use the slogan " A call for Action on Climate Change", and ask you to get involved in different ways. One is Project Switch, asking you to save energy by changing your inefficient light bulbs. They are also asking people to be Carbon Neutral, by "Reduce what you can, offset what you can't".

Carbon neutrality is a hot topic in Norway. Because of our oil production, we are one of the countries exceeding our emissions of carbon dioxide as decided by the Kyoto-protocol. This is something we are not willing to accept anymore, with Gro Harlem Brundtland as one of our former Prime Ministers we wish to aim higher. Brundtland was Chair of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), referred to as the Brundtland Commission, developing the political concept of sustainable development and published its report Our Common Future in April 1987.

After releasing the 4th Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in February, the awareness of the consequences we are facing has hit the ceiling. Everyone is talking about it here in Norway. Even our Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. A few days back he proclaimed that Norway would reduce the emission of carbon by 30 % by the year 2020 and become carbon neutral (100 %) by the year 2050. The last goal seem like a fairytale, but I am proud that we have a government that finally has understood the importance of action to save our planet as we know it.

The Chairman of the 4th Assessment Report, Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri, is coming to Tromsø June 5th, which is the United Nations World Enviroment Day. Tromsø is hosting the main celebrations of the day, which is commemorated each year on this date. This year the agenda is "Melting Ice - a hot topic?". In Tromsø there will be a conference and many other events focusing on the topic. The Science Center is going to participate, teaching children about ice the whole "Environment Week".

Wherever you are, you should celebrate the day. The topic is to important to leave unnoticed. UN are suggesting 77 ways of celebrating June 5th, by the World Environment Day Alphabet. And at the Science Center we know of more ways to do it. If you are interested in teaching this at your school, sharing this with your kids or just try it for yourself, don't hesitate to contact me.

April 18, 2007

Computer controlled small scale greenhouse

A project I have wanted to test for some time now, is developed by Dag Atle Lysne, Bjørn Tore Esjeholm and Stig Misund at the Finnmark University College. By using the Robolab products from Lego, you can build and program an automated small scale greenhouse. According to the developers it requires about 12 hours to complete this process. After finishing the building and the programming, this greenhouse is a nice tool to sample various plant growth information. The project description of the greenhouse project is in Norwegian, but I can translate it if anyone wants it in English.

I have discussed this project with author Dag Atle Lysne, and he had several suggestions to alternative materials and programming tools. By using Lego bricks, there are some problems with the door solution. The door tend to become either to heavy for the motor or not solid enough to tolerate the frequent opening and closing to regulate the heat. Lysne suggested using other materials like wood, metal, plexiglas or plastics to lower the weight, and combine it with some Lego components.

He also told me he had tried using other programming tools, to increase the difficulty level and gain experience with other tools than Robolab. I do not know which tools he referred to, but I will try to figure it out if anyone are interested.
[Update: A friend of mine, Rob, has written a post about our science center, and suggests some other tools for programming. Thanks!]

April 17, 2007

In desperate need of a coke crib

I visited a school out of town today. Anne and I went to Hamnvåg Montesorri school in Malangen, approximately two hours from Tromsø. We travelled with three topics in our car trunk, a give away geology collection, energy (Lego Education) and solids, liquids and gases.

The last topic required four bottles of Diet Coke, to have a geysir show once again. But as we saw when travelling with this roadshow in Harstad, the experiment suffer because of the travel requirements. The roads were bumpy and the bottles got tossed around back in the trunk, resulting in rather lame geysirs today. Lots of fizz got lost when opening the bottles, as if we had shaken the bottles or dropped them on the floor.

The children and their teachers were happy with the geysirs, they were spectacular enough for the young at heart, but Anne and I knew it could have been much better.

We need some sort of spring system to keep the bottles unshaken upon arrival, a Coke Crib if you like. If someone out there could come up with a device to fix this, we would love to hear from you.

April 15, 2007

Dig a hole to China, or?

It is a known fact that if you dig a hole straight down, you will end up in China. It is something we have learnt as children all over the western world, I believe. Without the hard labour, and not considering the melted magma you have to fight when crossing the core of earth, you can check this fact with this cool application made by Stienman/Micro Basics.
Considering that 70 % of the earth surface is covered with oceans, it might not come as a surprise that you will find it hard to hit land wherever you start digging. Only small parts of the landmasses are placed opposite land, like the southern part of South America and South-East Asia. If you start digging from Tromsø, where I live, you would end up midsea between South America, Australia and Antarctica. Very far from China! So who started this myth, anyway?

April 12, 2007

Our girls fix robots on their own

A few years back, at my former workplace, I had lunch with some of my colleagues. My memory can not recall the topic we discussed, but I mentioned my plans to buy Lego Mindstorms to my three-year old son. When hearing it two of my male colleagues (in their thirties) started to smile and asked simultaneously "When can I come for a visit? - to play!".

They are a part of the Lego generation, just as I am. I must admit, I still play with it. I play with my son, and I play at work. There are many like me out there. This winter we have been amused by an elderly man working at the University and sharing office space with us. He has bought two Lego NXT robots, to play with his grandson, and he enjoys it so much he keeps chatting about it all the time, with great enthusiasm. He makes us smile, and wish for many playful years ahead.

The Science Center organize the local First Lego League contest each year. Over the years we have observed the participating teams and seen a trend across the teams. They were all mixed teams with both girls and boys, and all collaborated in the same manner. The girls wrote the log and prepared the presentation, while the boys built and programmed the robot. Does it sound familiar?

Because of this we decided to gather our own team, girls only, and see if they took the front seat with the boys missing. So for the last two years we have organized and trained a girls-only team. All the other teams came from schools and could work on the project during school hours, while our girls had to work afternoons the whole two-month period. Despite their drawback of having less time available, they worked hard, had plenty of fun, gained new friends and learned lots about robots and programming. In 2005 they won the price for "Best collaboration" and last year they won the price "Best in show". I find it quite impressive, considering the hard competition they have had from teams with years of experience. Last year they ended as number seven, when six teams qualified for the final. Next fall we will set our goals higher, trying to focus more on the programming bit, to get a higher total score and get to the final. Because it is the robot and the programming that is most important in this contest, despite all the circus.

Watch life form before your eyes

In the early nineties I took a university class in cell biology. We had an inspiring professor named Finn Haugli, and his student labs excelled beyond comparison. The lab I loved the most, was the one about embryology. Using the sea urchin as a model system, we collected eggs and sperm. While looking at it in the microscope, we fertilized the eggs with the sperm and saw the embryo form before our eyes. Remarkable!

Years later I taught the same course at the university myself, and used the same experiment with my students. It requires some labour from the teachers, to purchase the animals and keep them alive, but the experiment itself is simple. I used the procedures described by Leland Stanford Junior University, with some minor modifications. We used the local species of sea urchin; Northern Sea Urchin/Drøbakkråkebollen Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, and the local sea water temperature. This actually made it easier for us, we could use the fridge as an incubator. The temperature is crucial, if it is to warm, the urchins spawn before you can start the harvest and if it is to cold, the gonads are consumed by the urchin itself. This species naturally spawn in spring. To get the animals you either have to scubadive for them, collect them at low tide or get them from a local sea water aquarium.

When performing the actual fertilization, you need to be patient. The embryo forms quickly, but you have to wait patiently for the cell divisions. The species we used needed 2-3 hours before the one cell became two, and so on. It varied a lot between the individual embryos, but it is worth waiting for, to see a cell split into two and two split into four. There is nothing like it!
Leland Stanford Junior University has an extensive website with all the information you need to try the experiment yourself, called Sea urchin embryology. On their pages they write

Gametes of sea urchins yield exceptional experiences in the classroom; teachers and students alike are riveted by being able to observe fertilization, cell division and embryonic development. The gametes are easy to use, the developmental stages are readily seen with the microscope and the rapidity of fertilization and early cell divisions allows the student to ask questions and obtain answers within the bounds of a normal classroom schedule.

They have also started making an virtual lab site. Although it is not completed yet, there are plenty of high quality activities there. The site is called Virtual urchin website (requires Flash), and is also linked from the mothership.

The code of all living things

Although we learn that all living things contain DNA, it might seem a bit to abstract to many kids. And when we think of DNA, we picture the beautiful double helix, right? Well, it does sort of look like that, if we view it through the best microscopes there is. But if we look at it with our bare eyes, it looks more like snot. Or a blob, if you like. If you do not believe me, check it out for yourself. Exploring this fact is very easy, it is maybe one of the simplest experiments there is. There are many different protocols that work in the same manner.

I have had success with the ingredients mentioned below, and the procedure (in Norwegian) can be found at Nysgjerrigper.no (written by Hanne Finstad).

a sample of something living
cold water
salt (NaCl)
detergent (soap of some sort, containing sodium lauryl sulphate)

There are plenty of good resources on this in english too, the research language above all. I have probably only seen a small percentage of them, but here are a few excellent sites:

How to extract DNA from anything living The University of Utah (with a funny twist)
DNA extraction The Gene School (good explanations)
How to extract DNA from fruits Fun Science Gallery (descriptive photos)

April 11, 2007

Steady hand game, also known as Buzz wire game

At our latest science club for kids aged 9-12, our theme was technology and design. One of our activities was to make a steady hand game.

It turned out to be one of our most popular events ever, based upon the feedback we got from the kids and their parents. The parents were very impressed of what the kids had managed to build.

The games we made required cutting and shaping plastics, assemblying and soldering the electronics, and shaping and mounting the wire. With some help from the adults, even the youngest ones at 9 managed to make stylish looking, fully functioning toys. The games we made were based upon the instructions from a Norwegian book called "Trigger - teknologi og designboka" (2006) written by Eva Celine Jørgensen, Svein Briså and Rolf Ingebrigtsen.

If you want to make one of your own, and have problems with my native tongue Norwegian, do not worry! There are plenty of kits available at various internet stores; just google buzz wire game or steady hand game.

And if you want to do as we did; make it from scratch, there are options out there for you too. Here are a few, varying in difficulty level:

April 10, 2007

Northern Lights

As mentioned in a previous post, our Planetarium used to be a Northern Lights Planetarium, where tourists and locals could view the Aurora Borealis year around. Although it closed down in the late nineties, people still contact us and ask for the northern lights show. And at summer time, tourists come here with the same agenda. Unfortunately we have no show to offer them anymore. So we tell them to return in winter time to see the show for real. Because of our location at 69 degrees North, we have midnight sun two months each summer and the bright sky prevent us from seing the northern lights for approximately 4-5 months each year. Lots of tourist (mainly from Japan) do visit Tromsø midwinter to experience the northern lights dance across the sky. With a clear sky, the chance of seing the Aurora is quite good, and by checking the Northern Lights Forecast you can be prepared on what conditions to expect.

The first "waterproof" explanation of northern lights was suggested by Kristian Birkeland, a space scientist back in the ninetenth century. Because of his lifelong achievement he is displayed on our 200 Kroner note, as well as his Terella, on which he created the first artificial northern lights.

A friend of mine, Robert Burke, visited Tromsø in January and got some good photos of the northern lights display. He followed the instructions of Jan Curtis at Nature Photographers Online Magazine to optimize his camera settings.

Invent to learn

Until Easter we had the pleasure of hosting the exhibition Toy Tech, created by Invention Evangelist Ed Sobey at the Northwestern Invention Center. Ed is a remarkable man, and his "Invent to learn" philosophy is a learning strategy we found very intuitive and efficient.

Toy Tech is an active exhibition, where visitors can play with toys and view adjacent cut-always to see how they work. The exhibition includes some of “The World’s Greatest Toys” exhibit and a workshop. At the workshop visitors can make a variety of toys from inexpensive materials. They learn physics and building skills while becoming empowered to do more exploration. We used the "Invent to learn" philosophy at the workshop. The kids got a task to solve without getting an "instruction leaflet" from us. The idea is to learn by doing mistakes; make a prototype as fast as possible, then test it and correct one flaw at a time. Ed has written several books of this learning method, and I highly recommend two of his books entiteled Rocket-Powered Science: Invent to learn! Create, Build & Test Rocket Designs and Loco-Motion, Physics Models for the Classroom: 25+ Hands-On Projects.
[Update: The Toy Tech exhibition can be viewed at Jærmuseet, the Science Centre in Sandnes, from september. There is also an American version on tour, contact Ed if you want to know more.]

April 05, 2007

Balloon hoover craft

Here is another funny experiment for you! It is a great activity at birthday parties, both for kids and adults. And it is a nice ice breaker or a fun way to start a lesson about gases or air. As many as 10-15 kids, depending on weight of course, can stand on the table before the balloons start to explode.

Here is what you do: Inflate lots of balloons to the same size. Turn a table upside down and place it on top of the balloons. One by one, step carefully onto the table, make sure to keep the table in balance. How many can you cram onto the table before the first balloon pops? Let me know!

It is a nice demonstration of the strength of air and it can be compared to the tires of cars, filled with air and withstanding the weight of several tonns.