Call for Reimagined Science Kits

The SPARK (Science Play and Research Kit) Competition is requesting submissions for what they are calling “Reimagining the Chemistry Set of the 21st Century.”

To be clear, we’re interested in science beyond chemistry. We borrow this term to capture the spirit and magic of what the classic chemistry set spawned in the 1940s – 60s. We’re looking for ideas that can engage kids as young as 8 and inspire people who are 88. We’re looking for ideas that encourage kids to explore, create, build and question. We’re looking for ideas that honor kids’ curiosity about how things work.

We’ve delved into that spirit with our posts on Vintage Chemistry Manuals and Vintage Chemistry Sets. We also see it in our community in groups like Public Lab, with projects like Thermal Photography. It is exciting to see this contest trying to promote that spark of curiosity. Submissions are due in January, and we’re looking forward to seeing the winners when they’re announced in February. In the meantime, we would like to hear what you want to see in science kits for the future.

Halloween Hacks on Science Friday

This week on the NPR radio show Science Friday, our co-founder, Windell Oskay, will be talking with Ira Flatow about Halloween hacks and projects and will likely be taking calls from listeners. Find out how to listen online and what radio stations will be broadcasting in your area. The show airs live from 2-4 p.m. Eastern Time (11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Pacific) and Windell should be on around 3:30 p.m. Eastern (12:30 p.m. Pacific).

Our archive of Halloween projects and hacks can be found here.

Update: Here’s the audio from the segment:

OHS 2013 Highlights: DropBot

DropBot is an open source Digital Microfluidic (DMF) automation system that was presented at the 2013 Open Hardware Summit by Ryan Fobel of Wheeler Microfluidics Laboratory at the University of Toronto.

In DMF, discrete fluidic droplets are manipulated on the surface of an array of electrodes coated with a hydrophobic insulator.

It extremely exciting to see the sciences embracing open hardware in new ways.

Open Medical Hardware: The Open Stent

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The stent pictured above is an example of an Open Stent from NDC, makers of nitinol materials and devices, particularly for medical applications. In their introduction to the project, they write:

The first problem that we encounter when developing useful and practical educational resources for stent design is that every design we might want to use as an example is proprietary! That leaves us without much to talk about… So to solve this problem, the first step was to create a design to use as an example. The Open Stent is designed to be completely generic, but also realistic, and relatively easy to modify and extend to be useful for whatever purpose a designer intends.

In addition to publishing their draft of Open Stent Design, which they call “a practical guide and resource for design and analysis of a generic Nitinol stent,” NDC has provided extensive calculation tools and CAD files as well, to help others evaluate and create derivatives of the design.

The project is a fascinating open source hardware use case, where creating an open design provides a platform for education and discussion where none existed before.  It’s also very exciting to recognize this as an early example of open source hardware in the field of medical devices— one of the places where open hardware can potentially make a very big difference in the world.

Foul Play in the Floral Department

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While walking through Home Depot on an unrelated mission, we happened to walk by a display of succulents, and were struck by the unusual blue color of some of the flowering cacti.

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But on closer inspection, we could see what was really going on: the flowers on the top were attached… with glue. In fact, most of the flowers on the cacti and succulents were glued on.  Some of them, like this winner here, even had globs of glue spilled down onto the spines of the cactus below.

This is a deceptive (yet sadly common) practice— and apparently many people do get fooled by it —as we found garden forum posts and warning articles about it, including here, here, here and here.  This seems not so far away from buying a fruit tree at a nursery, only to find out (once you get it home) that the fruit was only glued to the tree.

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It looks like they are trying to make the less showy cactuses compete with the brightly colored grafted ones that they sell, like the ones shown pictured here. (This may not be a naturally occurring configuration, but at least it is a real, living plant.)

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Strawflowers are used because they keep their color well after drying. They also open and close as the humidity changes and they absorb more water or dry out more, giving the illusion of being part of a living plant.

And if it’s not bad enough that the customer is being deceived about the nature of plant they are buying, the glue can often damage the plant below, especially during the removal process.