Category Archives: Science

Evil Mad Engineers

Every month or two since 2009, someone has sent me a copy of a particular comic from the webcomic Cowbirds in Love.  Here is today’s example, from @benk_at_work on twitter:

@benk_at_work tweets...

evil mad engineers @ cowbirds in love

 

Sigh.

There is, of course, only one appropriate way to respond in a situation like this: with another comic.

Back in 2011, I wrote an era-appropriate semi-autobiographical rage comic, that I could use as a standard response when people sent me that comic.

f7u12

Joking aside, we really do spend a lot of our time engineering— and many of our friends and colleagues are bona fide engineers. On the other hand, I love to cook, but that doesn’t make me a chef either.

Geek Tourism: Biosphere 2

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Biosphere 2 is an enormous earth science laboratory, originally built as an attempt to create a closed ecosystem. The goals were to study long term viability of an isolated human habitat, such as might be needed for long term space travel or colonization.

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The results of the initial experiments were a (fascinating) mixed bag. The goal of a strictly closed ecosystem was not met for a variety of reasons. However, some of the results have improved our understanding of the effects of climate change, such as how increased CO2 levels lead to acidification of the ocean habitat and coral bleaching.

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The facility is now being used both for education and for research. The enormous agricultural greenhouses have been transformed by the University of Arizona into the Landscape Evolutionary Observatory, a large-scale carefully-controlled long-term study of soil processes. It serves as an experimental bridge between computer models, small-scale laboratory experiments, and the real world.

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Some of the original biomes are relatively unchanged and have been growing since the project started in 1991. It is striking to have all hint of surrounding desert obscured by the vines of the rainforest.

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One of the most fascinating engineering aspects of the facility are the “lungs,” which are accessed through long narrow tunnels branching off of the main facility.

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The lungs were used to compensate for the changes in pressure and temperature. The two domed buildings have flexible inner liners that can expand and contract. A weight attached to the center of the liner makes them look toroidal inside of the dome.

Biosphere 2

The facility was built outside of Tucson, and is strikingly beautiful, surrounded by wildlife including lizards, snakes, tarantulas, jack rabbits, coyotes, gila monsters, and an incredible variety of birds and insects. We’ve put a few more pictures from our visit in albums on flickr here and here. Tours are available to the public daily, and it’s worth the drive and ticket price if you’re nearby.

GeekMom reviews Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory

Sam over at GeekMom just posted a thoughtful and kind review, Bringing Science Home Again: ‘The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory’.

This is exactly what was needed. So much of home-based experimentation right now is focused on technology and making. While there is nothing wrong with that, traditional sciences are just as important. Labs are important. The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory brings the magic of science home again.

A Diamagnetic Demonstration

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Our friends stopped by with a simple apparatus to demonstrate the diamagnetic properties of bismuth metal. Diamagnetism is a extremely weak magnetic effect — generally orders of magnitude weaker than everyday permanent magnets, which exhibit ferromagnetism. However it is also an extremely interesting effect because diamagnetic materials are repelled by magnetic fields. This is different than the case with ferromagnets, where one pole of a magnet repels another — rather, the entire material is (weakly) repelled by any magnetic pole.

Now, how might one observe such a weak effect? One way is to build a magnetic levitation rig, but the field configurations there are a little less obvious. With a simple but sensitive balance, we can see the repulsion directly. The balance above has a long wooden beam, a central pivot on two blocks of plastic, and a couple of coins on the far end for counterbalance.

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At the business end of the scale, there is a cylinder of bismuth metal about 1 cm in diameter, held in place by a rubber band. We also have a larger rectangular block, which is our test magnet, made of grade N50 NdFeB and painted black. And finally, the Lego Astronaut Twins are here helping out as a scale and position reference.

Moving the block magnet beneath the bismuth, we can see what happens in an animated GIF:
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After the balance settles, the resting position of the end with the bismuth is considerably higher. With some calibration in terms of weights and/or positions, one could even measure the exerted force with some precision.

A slight improvement to this apparatus would be to reverse the roles of the bismuth and the block magnet. That is, to affix the magnet to the arm of the balance, and to slide the bismuth beneath it instead. You could then use a nearby block of aluminum to damp the motion of the beam through magnetic (eddy current) damping. Many commercial balance-beam type scales already use magnetic damping so that they settle down to their final values faster.

 

Build It Yourself Science on the Make Blog

Book excerpt on Polarized Light Filters

The Make Blog is featuring some excerpts from The Annotated Build It Yourself Science Laboratory.

In modern times, our contemporary Maker and Maker education movements have helped to rekindle our cultural interest in hands-on education, especially in the STEM and STEAM fields, in a way that hasn’t been seen since the 1960s — which is why it’s such a good time to bring this book back.

The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory

The Annotated Build It Yourself Science Laboratory

We have a book coming out!

Coming soon: The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory is a new, updated version of Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory, the classic 1960’s hands-on science book by Raymond E. Barrett.

The book is scheduled to make its debut at Maker Faire next week, where I’ll be speaking about it. It’s also available for pre-order now from Amazon.com and other sellers of books, as well as from our store.

We’ll be writing much more about the book once it’s out— about what’s in the book, the process of updating and annotating it, and about the hundreds of project ideas spanning biology, geology, chemistry, physics and more.

However, since we’re already in teaser mode, here are some photos of the original version from the 1960’s:

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Fine print: “You can build these and many other experimental items with materials from your home, garage, or local hardware store. Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory will show you how!”

The Annotated Build It Yourself Science Laboratory

 

Evil Mad Scientist Valentines: 2015 edition

Lo Res Valentines valentines

For each of the last two years, we’ve released sets of “Download and Print” cards for Valentine’s day. The 2013 set had six equation-heavy cards, and the 2014 set was a set of six symbol-heavy cards.  This year, we’re releasing six new cards, bringing the collection up to a total of 18 cards. This year’s new cards feature love, hearts, and arrows (but no bows or cupids):

My love for you is real

For when your love is complex, but not whatsoever imaginary.

I love you more every day

For that moment when you want to express that not only is the first derivative of your love positive, but so is the second.

Our love is off the charts

(Just in case there was a danger of none of these being sufficiently cheesy.)

You make me glow

Not sure how we missed this one in last year’s set of symbols.  Alternate caption: “You light up my life.”

Solve for i

And what better way to say “I love you,” than with the gift of a math problem?

2015 Evil Mad Scientist Valentines
Lo Res Valentines

You can download the full set here, which includes all 18 designs from the three years (a 765 kB .PDF document).

As usual, print them out on (or otherwise affix to) card stock, and [some steps omitted] enjoy the resulting lifelong romance.

Fall in Love with Science in Texas

The Hill Country Science Mill is celebrating its grand opening on February 14th. It’s a new science center in Johnson City, Texas housed in a historic feed mill built in 1880 as a steam grist mill and cotton gin. This picture of their WaterColorBot is from a preview day in November. A “Fall in Love with Science” event sounds like a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day!

A Special Lunar Eclipse

The upcoming lunar eclipse on Wednesday morning will offer a rare possibility for some viewers: a selenelion. Some locations (east of the Mississipi) may be able to see the setting eclipsed moon and the rising sun at the same time. But wait, it’s an eclipse, so that means that the sun and moon are on opposite sides of the earth, right? Right. So you shouldn’t be able to see them at the same time, right? Wrong. The earth’s atmosphere refracts the light from both, letting you see the sunrise a little early, and the moonset for a little longer. A guide to what part of the eclipse will be in progress at sunrise at various locations is available at space.com. You might just want to get up before sunrise for this one!