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.

ncw-candy-banner

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 – http://www.discoveryeducation.com/ – In addition to their usual offerings – there is a new package from the Navy.

From National Geographic – http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/?ar_a=1

From the USGS: http://education.usgs.gov/

From the American Chemical Society – http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education.html

From NOAA: http://www.education.noaa.gov/

From NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/ specifically from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/education/index.cfm?page=115

Have a great year in Science.

Rodeo Science

Wild Pony Race, Laramie Jubilee Days 2013

Wild Pony Race, Laramie Jubilee Days 2013

Have you thought about it or seen an article on it – the science of rodeo?  As July is prime rodeo season in the United States: Fourth of July Weekend, Cheyenne Frontier Days, and Cavalcade just to name a few, it seems like an appropriate question to ask.  And, as it turns out, while there is lots of science going on; there is not a lot of it published as “rodeo science.”

Here are some prime examples of science at work at the rodeo:

Animal Breeding Programs – Rodeo involves two types of athletes, the human and the animal.  The “rough stock,” the bucking bulls and broncs are highly valued animals.  Additionally, for the timed events humans team up with their animal partner, typically a very well trained and bred horse.  Additionally, there are cattle, goats or sheep that are used in the timed or other events.  Thus, there is a great deal of science going on to ensure good genetics are passed on to the next generation of livestock.  For the “rough stock,” there are numerous “born-to-buck” programs to breed future champion broncs and bulls.  In these programs, the genetics are carefully monitored and tracked.

Nutrition and Veterinary Science – Once the animal is physically in the world, care is essential to keeping the animal healthy.  Animal nutrition specific to the animals breed and work is complicated science.  Add to that the variety of animals used in rodeo, the nutritional needs of the individual animal competitors can become a full time job for the rodeo stock contractor.  This is in addition to the veterinary care that these animals receive to ensure they are in good health while on the rodeo circuit.

As for the human competitor’s partners, these horses receive constant care and attention during training as well as the rodeo season.  Their diets and health are monitored daily by their teammate and are routinely seen by veterinarians.   Horses that travel are required to maintain certain paperwork signed by veterinarians and are required to show that paperwork prior to entering various rodeo or fair grounds.  (Olympic horses that travel outside the United States have what are known as equine passports so that they can travel to various competitions.)

Safety Science – In the early days of rodeo, protective gear was a good saddle, a cowboy hat, boots, jeans, and a long sleeve shirt. Today, you see several different types of protective gear – both for the cowboy or cowgirl and the animals.  For the horses used by the cowboy or cowgirl, you may see specialized boots, shoes, and other gear to help protect the horse’s legs and feet.  For the roping steers, you will see horn wraps.  Horn wraps are used to protect the steer from injury due to the rope.  Then there is the “rough stock” rider’s gear: gloves, vests, neck protection, and safety helmets. This equipment has become more and more “high tech” with the advent of advanced materials and information on sports injuries from other sports. Even the cowgirls wear shin guards to protect their legs when running the barrels.  This doesn’t even address the equipment worn by the “bullfighters” or your chute workers.

Equipment – There is a variety of equipment that is used in rodeo events; from the hand hold rigging for the bareback bronc to the ropes used in steer or calf roping.  (Did you know that there are ropes designed for the person who throws left-handed versus right-handed?)  The saddles that are used by the steer wrestlers will be different than those used by the barrel racers.  The ropes, riggings, and other equipment are designed for the specific uses and are always being modified and improved.

In addition to this “hidden” science, there is obvious evidence of physics.  What goes up – must come down.  Or, pure examples of Newton’s Laws – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction or an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon.  As the horse or bull bucks, the cowboy has to react to the changes in momentum and the forces that the animal is generating in order to stay on for those 8 seconds.  If not, he is going to experience gravity usually in a pretty spectacular manner.

The human rodeo competitor not only has to account for his/her own motion and reactions but for those of the other competitors – the horse, the cattle, or the bull.  These competitors do more complex calculations in a brief 4 seconds for the ropers, 8 seconds for the “rough stock” riders, and 15 seconds for the barrel racers, than most theoretical physicists will do in their entire lives.  The only difference is that rodeo competitor never writes it down and if they are really good gets to take home a buckle and maybe a bit of prize money.

 

A fun way to look at Spring!

Now that spring is here – spring fever is here as well.  Part of spring fever means that everyone wants to get outside and do something.  Photography is a great way to get outside and explore.  With digital cameras readily available – we don’t necessarily think about how cameras work any more – we point and shoot.  But camera technology is built on fundamental physics and whether or not you are using a traditional film or digital camera the physics is much the same.  The only real difference is how the image is recorded and stored. 

Light still passes through a hole and is projected on the recording surface.  Lenses are used to help focus the light onto our specific medium.  To help study the concepts of physics used in cameras – building a pinhole camera out of simple materials that you can find in your home is a wonderful activity.  Depending upon how complex you want to get – you can even make a working 35 mm camera out of a match box.  Here is a link to 23 different pinhole cameras that you can build at home.

 

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

Time to Heat Things Up

The Polar Vortex has been in the news lately and many of you have experienced some very cold temperatures.  But, just as the weather is warming; we can do a bit of hands-on science to look at the properties of heat.  Thus, we can heat things up a bit!

On Jan. 13, 1864, Wilhelm Wien a German Physicist who received the 1911 Nobel Prize in Physics was born. His work on the theoretical nature of heat allowed Max Planck to resolve the problem of radiation in thermal equilibrium and allowed for the development of techniques to measure high temperatures.  This makes it a perfect week to focus on “heating” things up a bit.

Heat can be transferred three ways: conduction, convection and radiation. Here are a few resources to help you explore the heat transfer.

From the University of Wisconsin – Here is an animated activity.

Science Games from Science Kids

From NeoK12 – Heat Transfer Games, Activities and Lessons

And finally from Discovery Education and Siemens Science Day – An Downloadable Experiment.

Have fun exploring how things heat up or cool down as the case may be.