Wind Turbines and Energy from Wind Turbulence

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Wind turbines can be used as a source of clean, renewable energy. With their tall towers, wind turbines harness the movement from the wind-spun blades to generate electricity. The positioning of a wind turbine, however, will determine how effective it is. Environmental and civil engineers carefully evaluate the placement of wind turbine towers to help ensure they get maximum exposure to wind. What happens when there are buildings, trees, or other objects nearby? In this family science activity, families experiment to see how buildings may interrupt the flow of air and create vortices rather than steady streams of wind. It can be easy to observe similar patterns in a stream of water, but in this hands-on activity, families observe wind patterns using a fan, cardboard boxes, and streamers.
Students and families can explore the science behind wind turbines with an independent science fair project or a family-friendly activity:

 

 

Make a Lemon Battery

Explore electricity with a homemade battery in this week’s science activity spotlight.

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Ever wondered how a battery works to store and generate electricity? With a lemon, a penny, some plastic coated paper clips, and aluminum foil, you can make a fruit-powered battery and really see how the process works! What kinds of materials conduct electricity? What about a lemon makes it capable of producing electricity? The power from a lemon isn’t going to be enough to power your cell phone, but in this week’s hands-on family science activity, kids can experiment with a homemade, low-voltage battery using a lemon and “feel” the electricity created. Using other projects (see below), families and students can expand the science exploration to other fruits and vegetables and more in-depth investigation.

Lemons may be sour, but in this science activity, getting a charge from a lemon is about electricity, not taste!

 

ot Just for Lemons!

Lemons are a great way to experiment with a produce-powered battery, but they are not the only fruit or vegetable you can hook up to generate electricity. With the Veggie Power science kit (and Potato Batteries Science Buddies Project Idea), students can experiment with similar concepts using copper and zinc electrodes. What fruits and vegetables work best? How much power can you generate this way?

Candy Color Chromatography

With the Candy Chromatography Science Kit from the Science Buddies Store, students can unlock the colors that make up the coatings on favorite candies. This is a fun STEM experiment that yields visible results.

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The Candy Chromatography Science Kit can be used for several student science projects, but using the kit to break down candy coatings and investigate the dye composition of different candies is a great project for Halloween week (or while the Trick or Treat bag still contains candies like Skittles or M&Ms).

For full directions, see the Candy Chromatography: What Makes Those Colors? project.

The sample photos above focus on an orange candy. The results of this experiment will vary depending on the type of candy and the color tested. Are all orange candy coatings made the same? Grab an assortment of orange-shelled candies and find out! Which color candies do you expect to see the most variety of dyes used? Why?

The Candy Chromatography Science Kit can also be used to explore the pigmentation in leaves and flowers or the ink in markers. (See projects and activities listed below.)

 

Flippy the Robot Dances (and Falls Apart)

Engineering projects encourage students to think creatively, troubleshoot, and innovate. Sometimes there are no single “right” answers, and students will need to work, test, and brainstorm to find their own solutions to problems they encounter or to challenges presented. Building and improving a simple dancing robot whose legs fly off is a great way to “teach” lessons related to engineering and troubleshooting. Plus, Flippy is adorable, and this engineering challenge is a lot of fun!

 

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When it comes to students and introductory robotics projects, every robot has its own personality. Turning toothbrush heads, scrub brushes, and even plastic cups into bots that skitter around is a lot of fun and invites students to add googly eyes and other personal touches to give their bots character. Building different kinds of introductory robots also helps students explore new science and engineering concepts and skills. A good road map of sequential robotics projects can lead to a wonderful series of additive hands-on learning experiments.

Robotics projects give students a chance to work with electronics and robotics principles, but these projects are alsoengineering projects. While step-by-step directions to do the “build” may be provided, students need to be taught how to deal with problems, how to troubleshoot when something doesn’t work, and how to innovate and test new solutions. They need to learn to take these steps proactively and with confidence, and an engineering design project can help develop and reinforce these skills.

What happens when something doesn’t go as expected? What happens when you are out of a material you need? What happens when the build is finished and it works but not well?

Robotics and engineering projects encourage students to think creatively, to troubleshoot, to innovate, and to test different solutions to address problems that arise from, or go beyond, the step-by-step directions. Flippy, the Dancing Robot is a great example of a robotics project that is, more importantly, specifically designed to provide a fun, hands-on exercise in thinking like an engineer.

 

Water on Mars—From Sci-Fi to Space Science

The action in a popular sci-fi movie explodes when an astronaut stranded on Mars attempts to create water to irrigate his plants. Real-world space science, on the other hand, has been buzzing with new findings about water on Mars. The dry planet isn’t completely dry after all.2015-blog-mars-water-streaks-martian-movie-combo

The big screen adaptation of Andy Weir’s 2011 novel, The Martian, has been a hit with fans and critics in part because the story of Mark Watney is packed with believable and plausible science and engineering. Watney is stranded on Mars when a Martian storm forces the crew of the Ares III to abandon the planet. Watney, presumed dead, is left behind.

Recording his thought processes and actions as he assesses his current challenges and brainstorms solutions, Watney, a botanist with plenty of attitude and a bevy of engineering and chemistry skills, calls upon his science know-how as he struggles to find ways to survive.