There was a very low low tide on new years eve day so we headed off to our local marine reserve to clamber around on rocks and peek into tide pools! We saw clams and mussels and snails and at least one tiny fish and a dozen or so hermit crabs. We even saw a few portly harbor seals contentedly dozing on the rocks. It was a terrific, if all too brief trip. We will definitely go back next very low tide!
Posts in category science & math
Nora’s spring break was spent at a day camp at the Houston Arboretum with her besty Ursula. They learned about crocodiles, frogs, lizards, snakes, baby chicks, mice that can be fed to snakes, trees (that can not be fed to snakes), and lots of other cool stuff. Just get Nora started and she’ll teach you all about cold-blooded versus warm-blooded animals, how crocodile baby gender is determined by the ambient temperature, why a snake molts, and other cool facts.
After one of the days of camp, we and Ursula’s mom, Christina, picked the girls up and took them to a nearby park for a lunch and play date in the gorgeous 70+ degree weather of a Houstonian early spring.
Nora and I made a simple version of a pinhole camera today out of an old junk food can. I foolishly neglected to take any pictures of the construction process, but Nora and I collaborated about equally on all of the tasks (except the x-acto knife which I handled solo). The tube has a piece of wax paper suspended a few inches from a tiny, tiny hole in the bottom of the can. When light bounces off objects in the world, some of that light finds its way through the pinhole and creates a perfect (albeit upside down and backwards) image of the object on the wax paper. This is very similar to the way your own eye works and working evidence of how simple it would be for a species to evolve something as useful and (eventually) complex as an eye.
Here are some photos of Nora using our new camera (and some shots taken through the new camera with our old camera!
We have the great fortune of living just a minute or two away from the Houston Museum of Natural Science and its phenomenal new Hall of Paleontology. If you haven’t been down to visit us yet then, by all means, come soon and demand to be taken to this exhibit! You begin in the pre-Cambrian with the first evidence we have of eukaryotic cells and stroll easily through thousands of millions of years of evolution presented stunningly with mounted skeletons, statuary, artist renderings, instructional signs, actual living paleontologists who answer questions, and a stunning, jaw-dropping array of ancient life forms. These pictures do not begin to do it justice.
As I’ve mentioned before, Houston has a pretty good zoo. Better still, it’s just over a mile from our apartment (right across a couple of terrifying streets from my office). We don’t go every weekend, but we go pretty often. We’ve recently discovered that the secret is to go at 9:00am on a Sunday when the animals are all still awake and eating or playing, the heat isn’t too dreadful yet, and the park is pretty close to empty. The zoo isn’t huge, but it’s just large enough that you can go for an entire morning and only see a tiny part of it. We’ll focus on birds or primates or we’ll just spend a long time watching the red panda (which Nora has declared “the cutest animal on earth”). This past weekend we went to the animatronic dinosaur forest (Nora was terrified of all of the dinos, we both were terrified of the T-rex even though, with those ridiculous arms, he couldn’t even tie a bow tie or open a can of coke). From there we went to the reptile house and one of the bird areas to compare the living animals to the extinct models we’d seen and talk about whether dinosaurs were more like lizards or birds. Nora decided that dinosaurs were a lot like lizards but that they definitely had bird legs and maybe bird necks and bird heads.
After our trip to the splash park, we wound up our visit in the primates exhibit. Nora loves hearing about how we share a distant ancestor with the chimpanzees and an even more distant ancestor with the orangutan and a still more distant ancestor with the lemurs. We talk about how natural selection works and about how a tiny ability (to run a little bit faster, jump a little bit farther, hold your breath a little bit longer, or communicate a little bit more clearly) can, over time, translate into an enormous advantage and, ultimately, a new species. Here we are clowning around and trying to connect with our distant, distant primate cousins.
Nora’s been learning about the eight planets in our Solar System both at home and at school. As I hear the story, she’d made all of the usual things to make out of planets at school: a planet poster and a planet book. Nora was still pretty keen on doing more with the planets, though, so she came up with the idea to make a planet hat! Miss Melissa helped with the sizing and the mounting, but we understand that Nora was the primary designer and planetary visionary on the project. It was Nora, though, who came up with the brilliant name, ‘sun bonnet’.
Order yours today. Offer valid only while supplies last. Not available in stores. Offer void on Io, Beta Centauri, and on object 134340 (the rock formerly known as Pluto).
Nora and I went to the Cockerell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science to check out the B’flies and get some science under our belts. The butterflies are, of course, the main attraction, but to get to them you pass through a really wonderful hands on exhibit that teaches little ones (and their big ones) all about how important insects are, how they’re nowhere near as scary as people think (except the vinchuca, that thing’s terrifying), and how –without insects– there would soon be no birds, fish, or mammals either. Then you get to look at pretty wings. Nora was frankly a little freaked out in the rainforest part that butterflies were going to land on her nose. I probably shouldn’t have told her that all of the butterflies would be clambering over one another to land on such a cute, little nose.
These pictures are from our first trip to Space Center Houston/the Johnson Space Center. We’d already gotten her pretty excited about the eight planets and the Sun and she was naturally excited about the Moon (who isn’t?). We got to see MOCR-2, the historic mission control that controlled the Apollo 11 moon landing and was one of two control rooms used for all of the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Shuttle Missions until 1998. The second historic control room, the cleverly-named MOCR-1, has been gutted and replaced is now a Starbucks, I think. Nora was totally into the whole thing but was ultimately wooed away from space exploration by the giant multi-floor climbing gym in the visitors’ center.
As a follow-up to our liquid and solid water experiments, Nora and I decided to investigate steam. When you leave a glass of ice water out on the table why does the outside of the glass get wet? Why did the beaker in our previous experiments seem to leak without losing any mass? We explore this question by heating liquid water and then attempting to cool it quickly to see if it is possible to observe the relationship between liquid and gaseous states.
We boiled a pot of water (to make lunch, this is opportunistic science) and observed (carefully, without touching the pot) that steam began to rise from the water when the temperature got above about 100º C (212º F). The senior researcher filled a heat-resistant glass with ice (figure 1) and wiped the exterior with a dry paper napkin to verify that the glass was dry. The junior researcher then held this glass above the pot of boiling water for approximately 1 minute (figure 2).
While the glass was suspended over the steam it was observed that water quickly collected on the glass and was beginning to drip off. Then the senior researcher got distracted by something happening in the living room. The glass was subsequently removed from the steam, wiped with a dry paper napkin (figure 3), and the collected water was observed directly (figure 4).
It seems highly likely that adding heat to liquid water can cause it to transition into steam. This was confirmed by removing heat from the steam and observing the transition back to liquid water when the heat was removed by the ice. Additionally, the ice in the glass had begun to transition from the solid ice form to liquid water, an observation consistent with our previous findings. Most importantly, this experiment was really fun (except for the boring waiting) and Nora says she wants to do it again!