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.

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.

Meteor Alert for North America Tonight

2009 Leonid Meteor by Navicore

Photo by Ed Sweeney under CC-BY license.

From spaceweather.com:

METEOR ALERT: Sky watchers in North America might see an outburst of meteors during the early hours of June 11th when Earth passes through a stream of cometary debris last seen in 1930. Forecasters Peter Jenniskens (SETI Institute) and Esko Lyytinen (Helsinki, Finland) predict the return of the gamma Delphinid meteor shower this Tuesday morning around 08:30 UT (04:30 am EDT). The shower is expected to last no more than about 30 minutes with an unknown number of bright, fast meteors.

Field Trips: Fern Canyon

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Fern Canyon is a lush little feature of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park— a tiny winding canyon whose dripping walls are lined with soft ferns and vibrant mosses.

The park is located very northwest corner of California, nestled against Redwood National Park.  The two parks are managed together, as part of the “Redwood National and State Parks.”  It’s a substantial six hour drive north from San Francisco or Silicon Valley, but as you will see, it’s unique, and arguably worth the trip.

 

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Kitty’s Morning Tea

Kitty’s Morning Tea: Kinetic Theory of Matter for Kids, by Christine Liu, is a remarkably charming book and physics lesson for young children.  It’s a short twelve-pages about tea, molecules, and kinetic energy that you can read (in its entirety) above, in a digital edition released by the author.   We love seeing science-themed educational materials for youngsters— and this is no exception.

Christine and friends are running an (already funded) campaign on Kickstarter to print the book and get it into the hands of children, and you can get your own printed copy as one of the rewards.  It’s also available in a Kindle edition, free for the short remaining duration of their campaign.

The Exploratorium on the Bay

Exploratorium Banners on the Embarcadero

We have been visiting the Exploratorium in San Francisco again and again since we were teenagers in the early ’90s.  And with good cause: The Exploratorium is an unparalleled museum of hands-on science, art, perception, and exploration.  It’s not a children’s museum (although it is an amazing place to take children), nor is it a place where you admire giant fossilized skeletons, nor one of those museums that always seems to have a traveling exhibit with a name like “The Science of Jersey Shore.”

Instead, it’s a place full of simple, often-amazing yet not-too-flashy exhibits that (for the most part) you play with to learn about various phenomena.  For example, at the Floating in Copper exhibit, you can get a feel for the un-earthly effects that strong magnets have in the presence of a large block of nonmagnetic, highly-conductive material.  It’s one thing to read about eddy currents in an article; it’s quite another to release a chunk of metal in mid-air, only to find that it floats down to rest, more gently than a dandelion seed.  You may have seen this exact exhibit at other museums (here, for example)— and if so, that’s quite likely because the Exploratorium makes many copies of its exhibits for other museums and publishes plans for others to make their own.

Since moving to the Bay Area in 2005 and starting the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories blog, we’ve also been honored to present some of our own projects at Exploratorium events over the past few years, including the CandyFab, a Bristlebot workshop at the first Young Makers event, and some of our clock projects at the Open Make event on the theme of “Time.”

Palace of Fine Arts

Exterior of the Exploratorium, at the Palace of Fine Arts (2010).
Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid under CC BY-NC-ND license.

Reconsidered Materials

Interior of the Exploratorium, at the Palace of Fine Arts (2006).
Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid under CC BY-NC license

The Exploratorium has, since its founding in 1969, been located in the exhibit hall of the the Palace of Fine Arts— a huge arc of a building left over from the 1915 Worlds Fair, located in the Marina district of San Francisco, as pictured above. As the name implies, the building was designed to be a museum and was a remarkably suitable home for the Exploratorium. However, a few years ago, it came out in the news that they would be moving out of the Palace of Fine Arts, and into a space on one of the San Francisco Piers.  Of course, our hearts sank at hearing this, as we could not imagine any more perfect place for the Exploratorium. Nor could we imagine that they could possibly find a place as large and welcoming anywhere else in San Francisco. We were also worried about parking, as the Palace of Fine Arts was blessed with its own parking lots, a rarity in San Francisco.

We were wrong.

Pair of Vintage Street cars in front of the Exploratorium

Amazing space and lighting on the bay
On Saturday, we went to a member preview at their new location at Pier 15, which will be opening on April 17. We took a number of pictures as we explored, and in addition to sharing some of the highlights here, we have put up a flickr set from our visit.

The new location at Piers 15 and 17 on the San Francisco Embarcadero is right between the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf, in the shadow of the Bay Bridge.   A huge advantage of the new location is that it is much easier to get to by public transport than the Palace of Fine Arts was. There’s a MUNI train stop, and it’s just a few blocks from BART and the other public transportation that already comes to the Ferry Building.

There are also plenty of nearby parking garages and lots. We had no problem finding an inexpensive lot to park in for the day, and now taking the train is an option for us.

Looking down on plants and water exhibits

And it turned out beautifully. Here at the end of the pier, there are a number of new exhibits, many about biology and the bay.

Hall by the bio labs

The new location is much bigger: there is three times as much space. This view is looking down one of the corridors, from the location pictured previously. The museum is packed with exhibits as far as the eye can see.

So many exhibits!

All of the spaces are well designed, and extremely good looking, taking advantage of the abundant natural light.

Open areas between exhibits

There are many large open areas, as well as cozy corners and nooks. The Tactile Dome is being rebuilt on a larger scale (in a space with a higher ceiling than this) and will be opening this summer.

Carnivorous plants

Activity in the new bio labs is visible through large windows. In neighboring spaces, we saw them growing continuous replacement plants for the touchable plant exhibits and various organisms for people to look at under the microscopes.

 

The workshop at the Exploratorium

The new location has the same spirit, and despite our expectations, still feels like the Exploratorium. The workshop is just as prominent as before, and still out in the open so that visitors can see new exhibits in progress and old ones being repaired.

Playing with electricity

Our old favorites on electricity and magnetism (like Daisy Dyno) felt right at home, and were as popular as ever.

Generations exploring together

The acoustics are much more friendly, making conversations and discussions much more enjoyable.

Tidal exhibit

The one new building on the pier is the Bay Observatory, which has stunning views as well as brand new exhibits on bay topics such as geology, geography and tides. Above is a 3D tide table with the tides for each day represented by a the shape of each piece of plastic marked with the time and lunar information.

View of the city

Since this was an early preview, many exhibits are still in progress or yet to be installed. This outdoor space between Piers 15 and 17 will be opening soon and the museum plans to eventually develop additional space on Pier 17.

Bay Bridge

Congratulations to the Exploratorium on such a successful move and wonderful new home!

The museum will be opening to the public on April 17, and tickets will be available online soon. There are additional member previews coming up on April 6 and 9 as well— check the calendar for details and other upcoming events.