Success vs Failure

Most of us have at least one or to stories about great failures or unrecognized genius. Common names that come to mind are Ford, Macy, Honda, Disney, Gates, Einstein, Goddard, Schultz, and Seuss Giesel. These individuals have become part of the common lore. Success doesn’t always come in a conventional way. These individuals had what at the time were perceived as radical ideas and were told it wouldn’t work or there was no market, or that they were …. You fill in the blank. While these individuals have been inspirations for current generations – who came before? What ideas were presented as success after failures??

Turns out that history has quite a few examples of success after abject failure or what may have been perceived as failures. And, with these the mix of huge successes seemly out of nowhere. Take for example, the development of electricity and ultimately electromagnetic theory and quantum mechanics. There is a wonderful website that outlines a brief timeline of history. This timeline isn’t just about the observations, discoveries, and inventions as they relate to electricity – but it also conveys the foibles of individuals, the narrow view of the world, egos, money, and ultimately a history of society through the development of something that most don’t even think about anymore.

If you live in the United States – you probably think that electricity was a discovery of Benjamin Franklin. It is not the case, he was just continuing a tradition of scientific inquiry; but he is responsible for the selection of the direction of current (turns out he picked wrong, but we carry on with this assumption to this day). The scientific inquiry started with the Greeks or at least that is Western view. Because of the lack of documentation – who knows what was happening in Eastern Cultures or in Persia?

For those of you interested, the traditional view of electricity shows that Bradley, Gray, du Fray and others made observations of “static” electricity and in 1745, two years before Benjamin Franklin, Leyden Jars were invented. A Leyden Jar is a device that “stores” static electricity, a type of capacitor.

The story continues mixed with heated debates, creation of new languages, the language of science mathematics, and competitions. Laplace, Lagrange, and Gauss are all working toward explaining observed phenomena, but today are better known as mathematicians than scientists. (Of course, during this period they weren’t scientists either, but Natural Philosophers.) And, electricity wasn’t even the really big topic of the time, it was light and optics. The electrical observations were asides, interesting phenomena.

The 1840’s and 50’s appear to have been a hot bed of debate in science. You have Lord Kelvin (William Thompson), Henry, Faraday, Doppler, Helmholtz, and Kirchoff all working to explain various phenomena. New ideas about the nature of light – is it the same or different than sound? And, a couple of very radical ideas emerge – heat is a form of energy, and energy is conserved. These are two key ideas in the understanding of how the universe works. These ideas are so radical that the esteemed publication of the time Annalen der Physik rejects them for publication (Mayer in 1842 and Helmholtz in 1847). Yet, today these ideas are fundamental to physics and chemistry. They are fundamental to the development of much of our everyday life: the power we use to get us from point A to point B, devices we turn on with a flip of a switch, and allow us to travel to the edge of the solar system and land on comets. Yet, the ideas were initially rejected as “too speculative.”

These were the role models for Maxwell (mathematician/physicist), Planck, and Einstein. Which of course are the role models for Fermi, Feynman, Bohr, Rutherford, Oppenheimer, and the list goes on.

The history of electricity – is our history, It shows the development of us as a society. It has its ups and downs. Its disputes. Its family feuds. Its “I’ll prove you wrong”. And, ultimately our acknowledgements of who has the last say (at least for now). The question now is – what is that fundamental concept that has already been presented – that has been discounted by the knowledgeable establishment?

October is…… And, the winner is ……

You could say that October is Science Month!

Next week features the announcements of the Nobel Prizes.  So, look for a number of science related stories and features from various science organizations and businesses.  You can anticipate that the news will be filled with science applications connected to the winners of the Prizes in medicine, chemistry and physics.

Additionally, October generally features announcements for various science competitions.  Check out the Intel, Siemens and other notable companies as they begin to announce their regional and national activities.  (You can also check out Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and Science Channel – for many activities, lesson plans, etc.)  There are sites with monthly themes such as the Siemens Science Day in addition to topic specific sites.


October features National Chemistry Week (October 19-25, 2014).  This years theme is the Sweet Side of Chemistry – Candy.  There are a number of activities planned around the United States.  These will be hosted by Local Sections of the American Chemical Society, as well as Student Chemistry Clubs.  You can find teacher resources and associated materials at the American Chemical Society NCW website.  Of particular note – related to this NCW topic – was the dedication of the second National Chemical Historic Landmark related to the production of sugar on October 1.  This Landmark recognizes the work of Rachel Holloway Lloyd, a woman chemist.  (The first recognized the work of Norbert Rillieux, whose birth record states “Norbert Rillieux, quadroon libre, natural son of Vincent Rillieux and Constance Vivant. Born March 17, 1806. Baptized in St. Louis Cathedral by Pere Antoine.”  More information about the work and life of Rillieux can be found here.)

October is a great time for slime, glowing science, bubbling punch, and other fun home/class experiments.  Take a few minutes to do a quick search of the American Chemical Society education resources while you are looking at the Sweet Side of Chemistry – to find a bunch of “goolish” fun activities.  (You can also find sites related to Zombies, Bone Chilling Science, Vampires, and even a bit of graveyard science.)

Have fun and don’t forget to stay safe!  (PS if you need safety resources you can always pick up a copy of Staying Safe while Conducting Hands-On Science.)

The School Year is Here

Now that Labor Day Weekend is here – School is officially back in session. It is time to get back into the swing of things. Do you need science lesson plans? Do you need some interactive ideas? Looking for free resources? Here are some places to start:

From Discovery Education – – In addition to their usual offerings – there is a new package from the Navy.

From National Geographic –

From the USGS:

From the American Chemical Society –

From NOAA:

From NASA: specifically from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

Have a great year in Science.

Getting ready for the new school year! Science Resources

Are you getting ready for the new school year?  Have you even thought about it yet?

For many homeschoolers, July is the time to savor the last bits of summer and to start thinking about the new school year.  So, it is planning season.

Are you planning a science curriculum this year?  What resources are you going to use?  No matter what resource you are planning – you need to stay safe.  Sophic Pursuits – has a book for you.

Cover Hands without Spine

This book is designed primarily for the home school parent to help them assess the experiments and activities that can be found in books or on the internet.  You can get this book through your distributor or it is available in paperback, KindleTM ebook, and a downloadable PDF.  More information can be found here.

Are you looking for a high school chemistry curriculum?  The big challenge here is not finding a good text, it is finding a laboratory portion that can be done at home.  Sophic Pursuits is working to help you here as well.


Cover pic

This laboratory course is designed to accompany any chemistry text or can stand alone.  The course is written so that any parent or instructor can us it – whether you have a science background or not.  It focuses on basic laboratory skills that the high school student will need for that freshman laboratory in college – measurement techniques, chemical calculations, laboratory note taking, and laboratory reports.

The chemicals and experiments are designed such that you can use traditional laboratory equipment or items from your kitchen. It comes with an equipment needs list with references about purchasing the required items.  Sophic Pursuits has worked hard to make this course affordable and the required items should be easily obtained at a local hobby shop, hardware store, grocery store or the internet.  A sample laboratory activity – a chemical scavenger hunt – has been posted here.  In this activity, the student will be looking for chemical information: name, physical properties, etc., as well as establishing a laboratory notebook.  Instructions for the activity; background information about chemicals and chemical formulas;  and information about setting up a laboratory notebook are included as part of the laboratory.

The  laboratory course includes:

  • A Safety Information Scavenger Hunt
  • A Chemical Information Scavenger Hunt
  • Accuracy and Precision
  • Measurement
  • Density
  • Physical Properties and States of Matter
  • Moles, Molecular Weight, and Molarity
  • Freeze Point Depression
  • Writing a Laboratory Report
  • Exploring Solubility
  • Precipitation Reactions and Yield
  • Exploring Chemical Reactions
  • Putting It All Together to Determine an Unknown

There will be both a student and instructor manual.  Sophic Pursuits is looking for 10 families to pilot the program.  These pilot families will receive drafts of the student and instructor information as well as a support from the author.  The idea behind the pilot will is to refine the draft manuals in order to provide a better overall product.  If you are interested in piloting the first semester course please contact us. Remember the number of free programs are limited.


Exploring Weather and Other Fluids

It is spring time in Oklahoma – so that means weather (severe weather) is just around the corner. And, it also means some really cool science that can be done to explore concepts like Archimedes’ Principle, Bernoulli’s equations and principles, and Pascal’s Law. Here are few links to keep you busy:

Here is a quick weather book of experiments

One for Archimedes’ Principle

And another for Pascal’s Law

Volcanoes – Beyond baking soda and vinegar

Are you working on a volcano lesson plan?  Want to do something more than just the traditional baking soda and vinegar eruption?  How about exploring the properties of liquids?

When studying volcanoes, the topics of molten rock, lava flows, lahars, and pyroclastic flows are typically included.  Depending upon your lesson plan, you might have a brief mention of how different materials “flow” at differing rates, or how different lavas have different flow properties based upon the silica content.  This flow property is called viscosity – i.e. the property of a fluid that resists the forces causing the material to flow.

Everyone has some hands-on knowledge of viscosity.  Think about the difference in the flow of water versus maple syrup or motor oil on a cold morning versus a hot day.  Yet, we typically don’t do any hands-on science related to this physical property of fluids.  An Earth Science – Volcano lesson is a wonderful place to add this hands-on activity.

Now for your recommendations.

From SEED – A laboratory on the Viscosity of Liquids

From the Royal Society of Chemistry – Viscosity

Or, from Sophic Pursuits – Viscosity Explorations

Some safety precautions.  Know the materials you are using.  The Viscosity Exploration uses dish soap, vegetable oil, corn syrup and water.  It also looks at the change in viscosity with temperature.  So children need to work with an adult to make sure there are no burns.  But, the experiment can be done using ice water, cold water and hot tap water.

Just remember to be safe!

The Holiday’s are Almost Over – Back to Normal?

On Monday, January 8; most of the United States will return to a “normal” work/school week. For us the holidays are over and we must return to that hectic existence we have built for ourselves.  Social and sport groups are resuming full swing, and just look at that in box for the email.  (It is enough to make your head spin.) 

For homeschoolers, we have a bit of a choice.  We can return to that hectic existence on a more reasonable pace.  We can choose to focus a bit, put a bit more quality into our curriculum and not have to throw ourselves headlong back into the U.S. interstate speed culture.

So, from a science perspective; why not take a bit of time to reflect just how fast science can change our perspective and fundamentally our lives.  On January 8, 1642 Galileo Galilei died.  On the same date in 1980, John William Mauchly (with Presper Eckert – the co-inventor of the ENIAC – Electron Numerical Integrator and Computer – the first general purpose computer) died. And, in 1997 – Melvin Calvin died, a Nobel Prize winning chemist and discoverer for the Calvin Cycle, carbon fixing in plants.

All three of these individuals radically changed our lives.  So, here are some suggestions based on these three individuals:

  • Make a telescope (There are several internet how to’s – youtube videos, plans and kits available.  Because, every home has a different set of materials, I am not posting a particular one as it may not fit your specific resources.)
  • Visit the ENIAC Museum Online
  • Learn more about the Calvin Cycle from National Geographic Education