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Saturday Science: Microwave Soap

Saturday Science: Microwave Soap It’s a beautiful day with big puffy clouds … of soap! In this week’s Saturday Science experiment, found on Steve Spangler Science, discover what happens to Ivory soap when you heat it up in the microwave! 


  • Bar of Ivory soap
  • Various bars of another brand of soap
  • Deep bowl of water (or a plastic tub)
  • Paper towel
  • Microwave oven



  1. Fill the bowl with water.
  2. Drop the bars of soap in the bowl of water. 
  3. Did the Ivory soap float? 
  4. Place the bar of Ivory soap in the middle of a piece of paper towel and place the whole thing in the center of the microwave oven.
  5. Cook the bar of soap on HIGH for 2 minutes and watch closely. 
  6. What does the soap look like now? 
  7. Allow the soap to cool for a minute or so before touching it. What does it feel like? 


Did the bar of Ivory soap look like a puffy white cloud but feel hard and rigid? 

Unlike many other bars of soap, Ivory soap is able to float in the water because air is added to it while being manufactured. When soap is heated, the bar becomes pliable and traps the air bubbles that form as the water in the bar of soap vaporizes. 

According to Steve Spangler Science, “this effect is a demonstration of Charles' Law. Charles' Law states that as the temperature of a gas increases, so does its volume. When the soap is heated, the molecules of air in the soap move quickly, causing them to move far away from each other. This causes the soap to puff up and expand to an enormous size.”

If you tried to heat one of the other types of soap, without added air, in the microwave it would just melt into an ewwy-gooey mess! 

Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.

Saturday Science: Crazy Putty

Saturday Science: Crazy Putty Squish it. Squash it. Mold it. Bounce it. In this week’s Saturday Science experiment, found on Science Kids, learn how to make Crazy Putty!



  • 2 different size food storage containers.
  • Water
  • Food coloring
  • White glue
  • Borax solution (ratio of about 1 Tbsp of borax to a cup of water)



  1. Fill the bottom of the larger container with white glue.
  2. Add a few tablespoons of water and stir.
  3. Add 2 or 3 drops of your favorite food coloring and stir.
  4. Add a squirt of the borax solution (possibly a bit more depending on how much white glue you used).
  5. Stir the mixture up and put it into the smaller container.
  6. After some time, the mixture should have putty-like consistency.
  7. This is when you’re putty is ready to get a little crazy! Squish it between your fingers. Mold it into your favorite shape. Bounce it on the ground!



What made your crazy putty so CRAZY?! Two things: polyvinyl acetate, a polymer found in glue, and sodium borate, a chemical, found in Borax.According to Science Kids, when you combine the polymer and the chemical together in a water solution, their molecules react and join together as one giant molecule. Because this new compound is able to absorb large amounts of water, a crazy, putty-like substance is formed.

Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.

Why Dracorex hogwartsia Is a Dinosaur, Not a Dragon

Victor DracoBy Mookie Harris, Lead Interpreter for Dinosphere and Treasures of the Earth
It's a question we're often asked in Dinosphere—why is Dracorex hogwartsia considered a dinosaur, not a dragon?

In 2003, amateur paleontologists in South Dakota discovered fossils which they believed to be from a Pachycephalosaurus. The fossils were sent to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’ Paleo Prep Lab for preparation. It was discovered during this process that the bones were not from a dinosaur we already knew about, so our paleontologists got to name the new dinosaur species.

Because most people don’t spend as much time staring at dinosaur fossils as Victor Porter (pictured) and the rest of our paleontology team, museum guests who saw the new specimen said that it looked like a dragon or a crocodile—or even an alien.

Victor took all this into consideration. He named the small-toothed, herbivorous dinosaur Dracorex after the Latin words for “dragon king.” Why? Because it sounds really cool! 

Draco displayDracorex is in good company, too. Of the over 1,000 named dinosaur species,  several others have been named after creatures from myths and folklore. 

  • Dilong and Guanlong, two Chinese dinosaur species, are both named after the mythical “long,” or Chinese dragon. In fact, since “di” means “king” in Chinese, Dilong is also a “dragon king!”
  • Siats is named after a man-eating giant in Ute legend.
  • Seitaad gets its name from a mythological Navajo monster that buried its victims under the sand.
  • Jobaria is named after the Jobar, a gigantic mythical beast from Touareg legend.
  • Tarascosaurus is named after the Tarasque, a lion-dragon monster in medieval French folklore.
  • Harpymimus and Garudimimus are named after Harpies and the Garuda bird.
  • Anzu is named after a lion-headed bird from Mesopotamian mythology.
  • The prehistoric flying reptile Quetzalcoatlus is named for the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl who had the combined features of a snake and an eagle.


Dinosaurs were real wild animals that once walked the earth, but are now extinct. Everything we know about these creatures comes from our discoveries of fossilized evidence of their bones, footprints, dung, and in extremely rare cases, mummified soft tissue (blatant plug for Leonardo).

Dragons are magical creatures from fun stories. Sometimes, dinosaur fossils or even living creatures remind us of dragons. But the evidence tells us that dragons only exist in those stories.

Fortunately, as long as we have imaginations and the ability to tell stories, dragons will never go extinct.

Special thanks to Thomas Holtz for his encyclopedic assistance during the writing of this blog post!

Indiana's Top 5 Sky-Watching Events in 2015

By Claire Thoma, Evaluation Research Coordinator—and astronomy enthusiast!

I have a very fond memory of waking up in the middle of the night to watch a meteor shower with my dad when I was 8 years old. It was really cold, so we huddled inside sleeping bags in the yard. We only saw a few meteors, but we had so much fun together, and the experience deepened my love of science. If you’d like to introduce your family to some of the more exotic celestial sights, mark your calendar for these events (no special equipment needed)! 

Double the Planets, Double the Fun: Conjunction of Venus and JupiterJUNE 30 (and OCT 26)
Shortly after sunset, in the west-southwest sky, two bright planets, Venus and Jupiter, will be strikingly close together. They will appear to be separated by only about half the apparent width of the moon, making for a very eye-catching sight. Then, on October 26, Venus and Jupiter will engage in another close conjunction, this time separated by about twice the width of the moon. Venus will pass to the southwest (lower right) of Jupiter and shine more than 10 times brighter than the huge gas giant.

Observing Tips: 

  • Don’t despair if it's cloudy on these dates! Venus and Jupiter will still appear close together for many days before and after. It would be a cool project to chart their positions at the same time every night over a week or two to see how they move closer and then apart again!
  • This is a good event for binoculars. Even fairly small binoculars should be able to show the two planets as discs, rather than points of light, and you will probably notice a difference in color between them. 

Perseid Meteor Shower (AUGUST 12) 
The Perseid meteor shower is usually considered to be among the best of the annual meteor displays thanks to its high number of shooting stars. Lucky observers can sometimes see up to 90 meteors an hour during the shower. Last summer, the moon was waning gibbous (more than half full) and presented a major nuisance for those who wanted a dark sky to watch the shower. But in 2015, the moon will not rise until just before daybreak, leaving most of the night dark for prospective observers.

Observing Tips:

  • You should plan to spend an hour watching the skies, so bring blankets and pillows and make yourself comfortable on the ground. A fun game is to make up your own constellations or stories while waiting for the shooting stars. You will be able to see the brightest meteors even with streetlights around, but you will be able to see many more if you can get to a darker spot. 
  • Binoculars are not helpful during meteor showers because they restrict your field of view to a small amount of the sky. You’re more likely to miss a shooting star than see it through binoculars! 

Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Aldebaran disappears behind the Moon (SEPTEMBER 4–5)
The last-quarter moon will pass in front of one of the brightest stars in the sky, Aldebaran (pronounced al-deb-or-on), the orange “eye” of Taurus the Bull. This occultation will be visible over Indiana around 1:00 am, but there will be another visible early on Nov. 26—Thanksgiving morning.

Observing Tip:

  • The most striking moment of this event will be when the star disappears behind the moon’s edge, so plan to get outside to locate the moon and star a few minutes before the actual occultation. Aldebaran is the bright reddish star in the constellation that looks like a sideways “V” near Orion. If you have binoculars, check out the moon’s craters and see if you can locate the nearby Pleiades star cluster. Because the moon and Aldebaran are both so bright, you don’t have to worry about streetlights for this event. 

Lunar Eclipse (SEPTEMBER 27-28)
Eclipse watchers in Indiana will see the entire lunar eclipse from start to finish. Totality (the time during which the moon is completely in the Earth’s shadow) will last 72 minutes. The Earth’s shadow begins moving across the moon about 9:10 pm, and the moon will be in total eclipse at about 10:10 pm. 
It's helpful to have detailed information on the timing of the different eclipse phases for Indiana.

Observing Tip:

  • The entire lunar eclipse process, from the time the Earth’s shadow first starts creeping over the moon until the moon is completely out of the shadow, lasts almost 3.5 hours. I like to check periodically as the moon goes into eclipse and then make sure to see it fully in shadow (when it looks reddish). No binoculars or dark sky needed, although it is fun to look at the moon’s craters with binoculars! 

BONUS EVENT: International Observe the Moon Night (SEPTEMBER 19)
If the timing of the lunar eclipse doesn’t work for you family, or you would like to check out the moon through a telescope with other sky-gazers, looks for an event near you during this international event!

Geminid Meteor Shower (DECEMBER 13-14)

If there is one meteor display guaranteed to put on an entertaining show, it is the Geminids. Most meteor experts now put it at the top of the list, surpassing even the August Perseids in brilliance and reliability. The moon will be a narrow crescent and will set early in the evening, leaving the sky dark all through the rest of the night — perfect conditions for watching shooting stars. This will be your chance to see an average of as many as two meteor sightings every minute, or 120 per hour in a dark location! 

Observing Tips:

  • You should plan to spend an hour watching the skies, so bring blankets and pillows and make yourself comfortable on the ground. Sleeping bags, hats, and gloves would be a good idea since Indiana is cold in December! A fun game is to make up your own constellations or stories while waiting for the shooting stars. You will be able to see the brightest meteors even with streetlights around, but you will be able to see many more if you can get to a darker spot. 
  • Binoculars are not helpful during meteor showers because they restrict your field of view to a small amount of the sky. You’re more likely to miss a shooting star than see it through binoculars! 

Saturday Science: Creating Colorful Icicles

Saturday Science: Creating Colorful IciclesWhen the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, everything begins to freeze. Rain turns snow. Ponds harden into ice skating rinks. Droplets of water take the shape of icicles. With this freeze, the last of fall’s vibrant colors fade and shades of white, blue and brown take their place. But what if we could make icicles less clear and more colorful?

This winter, brighten things up! When the temperature drops below freezing, use this Saturday Science experiment, from Housing A Forest, to create your own colorful icicles!



  • 4-5 (or more) disposable containers
  • Water
  • Food coloring
  • Freezer
  • Cookie Sheet
  • Ladder
  • 2 liter soda bottle
  • 6 long pieces of yarn
  • Plastic syringe



  1. A day or two before you create your colorful icicles, make some colorful ice blocks! Fill the disposable containers with water and stir in your favorite colors of food coloring. Place in your freezer and let freeze. When the ice blocks are frozen, you’re ready to create colorful icicles!
  2. Take your ice blocks out of the freezer and pop them out of their disposable containers. Spread them out on a cookie sheet. If you have extra blocks, you could even build an ice castle!
  3. Set up the ladder and place the cookie sheet and ice blocks underneath it.
  4. Make a small hole in the bottom of the 2 liter soda bottle and thread the yarn through it.
  5. While you’re inside, soak the threaded piece of yarn, as well as the other 5 pieces, in water.
  6. Go outside and place the bottle on the highest step of the ladder.
  7. Tie the other end of the yarn to the broom handle. Tie the remaining 5 pieces of yarn to the handle as well so that all the pieces of yarn are touching.
  8. Stick the other ends of the yarn to an ice block. Use the syringe of water to help the yarn stick to the ice. Your yarn should be in the shape of a tent.
  9. Carefully fill the soda bottle with water and add a few drops of food coloring. Stir and let the water drain down the yarn.
  10. Every 10 minutes repeat Step 9 adding different colors to the water. The more water you add, the bigger your icicles will be!
  11. Let the icicles freeze overnight.
  12. In the morning, go outside and check out your colorful icicles!



What do you see? Is the yarn covered in colorful icicles?

This happened because the temperature outside was below water’s freezing point: 32 degrees Fahrenheit. As the colorful water from the soda bottle drained onto the yarn, small droplets ran down towards your ice blocks and the cold air eventually froze them in place.

This is how icicles form naturally, too! On cold but sunshiny days, bits of snow and ice melt from the sun’s rays. But as the water droplets begin to run off the side of your house or the edge of a cliff outdoors, they freeze again. If enough water droplets freeze in the same place, an icicle forms!

Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.

Saturday Science: Crystal Suncatchers

Saturday Science: Crystal Suncatchers During the cold months of winter, sometimes it’s nice to get a glimpse of the sun’s warm rays of light. That’s why in this week’s Saturday Science, found on Babble Dabble Do, we are showing you how to catch some rays with crystal suncatchers! It takes just a few ingredients but results in a pretty awesome winter surprise.



  • Epsom Salt 
  • Clear Plastic Lids
  • Water
  • Empty Jar
  • Bowl
  • Measuring Cup
  • Fork
  • Microwave 
  • Tray
  • String
  • Pin    



  1. Pour 1 Cup Epsom Salt to an empty glass jar.
  2. Pour 1 Cup of water to a microwave safe bowl. Heat the water in the microwave for 45 seconds.
  3. Quickly pour the warm water into the jar with the salt. Stir the salt and water for 1-2 minutes until salt is dissolved.
  4. Place several plastic lids on a flat-bottomed tray.
  5. Pour some of your water and salt mixture into each of the recycled plastic lids so that each lid has just enough water to cover the bottom. Be careful to not overfill the lids.
  6. Place the tray of lids in sunny location.
  7. Wait! Depending on how much water has been added to the lids, it can take a few hours or a day to start crystallizing.
  8. Once the water is completely evaporated, carefully poke a small hole in the edge of the lid.
  9. Thread a piece of string through the hole and tie in a knot.
  10. Now hang your suncatcher up in a window and watch it catch rays of sun!


When a ray of sun hits your suncatcher just right, does it shimmer and beam the sun’s light in different directions? 

This is caused by the small crystals that formed on your plastic lids as they dried out. 

Crystals are solids that are formed by an organized and repeating pattern of molecules. When you added warm water to your Epsom Salt, the water molecules separated the sodium and chlorine atoms. You then poured the salt water mixture into shallow lids and put them in a sunny area. As the water evaporated from the lids, the sodium and chlorine atoms bonded together forming small crystals. If you look close enough, you might be able to see that these crystals are in the shape of small cubes. 

Now take a step back, and enjoy your beautiful crystal suncatcher! 

Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.

Saturday Science: Magnetic Slime

Saturday Science: Magnetic SlimeIt’s ooey and gooey, squishy and squashy. It oozes through your fingers and moves on its own. It’s magnetic slime! In this week’s Saturday Science, found on Frugal Fun for Boys, discover the power of magnetic force while playing with slimy slime!



  • Liquid starch
  • White school glue
  • Iron oxide powder
  • Disposable bowls
  • Parchment paper
  • A neodymium (rare earth) magnet (A note on safety: Always keep neodynmium magnets out of reach of children.)



  1. Pour ¼ cup of liquid starch into a disposable bowl.
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of iron powder and stir until well mixed.
  3. Add ¼ cup white school glue and stir again.
  4. Ready to get a little messy? Take the slime out of the bowl and mix with your hands. Squish and squish.
  5. Place the slime on a paper towel.
  6. Dispose of the liquid left in the bowl and wash your hands.
  7. Pat the slime dry with a paper towel to get rid of excess liquid. Once the slime is dry, it will no longer turn your hands black.
  8. Place the slime of a large piece of parchment paper (to prevent counter/table stains) and play!
  9. Carefully hold the neodymium magnets over the slime. Watch the slime come to life!  



As you held the magnets near your slime, what happened? Did the slime stretch closer towards the magnet?

This is because the iron oxide that you stirred into your mixture is a polar magnet. Each iron particle has a positive and a negative end, as does your neodymium magnet. When you hold the magnet next to the slime, the opposite ends of the iron particles are attracted to it. If you hold the negative side of the magnet towards the slime, the iron particles’ positive ends pull towards the magnet and vise versa. Either way, as the iron particles are pulled towards the magnet they take the slime with them. Because the slime is a viscous substance – meaning it has a consistency between a solid and a liquid – it doesn’t easily separate. That is why your slime can be squished and squashed and pulled in many different directions without coming apart.

Now that’s some ooey gooey and educational fun!

Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.

Saturday Science: The Science of Sliding

Saturday Science: The Science of Sliding The snowflakes are hung, lights twinkle on the tree, and—most importantly—the Yule Slide is ready to ride! Each year, families wait in anticipation for this favorite Indianapolis tradition. This year, we’re giving you tips on how to make your Yule Slide ride even faster! In this week’s Saturday Science, courtesy of Creative Family Fun, discover which surfaces slide best.


  • Large sheet pan
  • Water
  • Freezer
  • A few small objects with varying roughness (e.g. a cotton ball, a milk jug caps, a rock)
  • Piece of printer paper
  • Pencil or pen


  1. Add water to a large sheet pan.
  2. Carefully place it in the freezer, and allow the water to freeze completely.
  3. While the water freezes, fold the piece of paper in half. On one side, make your predictions. Will each object slide or not slide?
  4. Take the pan out of the freezer, and place it on a table to begin the experiment.
  5. Slide your small objects across the tray of ice.
  6. Which objects slide the best? Record your findings on the other side of your piece of paper. How do your results compare to your predictions?


Did your smooth objects slide better than your rough objects? This is because smooth objects have less friction. Friction is a force that resists movement of two solid objects. Because your smooth objects have less friction they create less resistance when they slide across the ice. When you slide down the Yule Slide during Jolly Days, be sure to choose an outfit that is made out of a soft material and doesn’t have too many zippers. With less friction, your next ride down the Yule Slide will be the fastest one yet!

Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.

Did Dinosaurs Swim?

Did dinosaurs swim? In 2014, one paleontologist’s dino-mite discovery led to a conversation about where dinosaurs spent their days. Did they all roam Earth or did they swim? We turned to National Geographic's “Mister Big” to introduce you to a dinosaur like you’ve never seen before.

Imagine: It’s the middle of the Cretaceous period, about 100 to 94 million years ago. You’re standing in what is today’s southeastern Morocco. Dinosaurs, including at least three great predators roam Earth’s lands. Six or seven types of crocodiles and 8- to 25-foot fish swim through the rivers. Large reptiles fly through the sky. 

How can all of these predators coexist? 

In a quest to answer that question, paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim made an even bigger discovery– the first known dinosaur that spent a substantial amount of time in water. 

Meet Spinosaurus aegyptiacus

This is a dinosaur that stretches 50 feet long from nose to tail with a six- to seven-foot smooth sail on its back. Beneath the dorsal fin is a dense, barrel-shaped torso. Its enormous skull is held up by its long neck. A long slender snout resembles that of a crocodile, and its short hind limbs are disproportionate to its dense and powerful forelimbs.  

Spinosaurus is incredibly front heavy,”  paleontologist Paul Sereno tells National Geographic. Serena, Ibrahim’s postdoctoral adviser at the University of Chicago, also discovered several notable North African dinosaurs, including Suchomimus, a relative of Spinosaurus with long, crocodile-like jaws. “It’s like a cross between an alligator and a sloth.”

The animal was originally discovered and named by Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach between 1910 and 1914. Fossils of Stromer’s Spinosaurus were displayed in Munich’s Bavarian State Collection for Paleontology and Geology. But, in April 1944, a World War II Allied air raid destroyed the museum. Unfortunately, all that was left of the Spinosaurus was Stromer’s field notes, in which, according to National Geographic, he had concluded that the animal was “highly specialized.” But specialized for what was a question that remained unanswered.  

It was previously thought that while most dinosaurs might have had the ability to swim at some capacity, they were predominantly land animals. No one imagined dinosaurs swimming alongside crocodile and large fish—until March 2013.

After a long journey and hard search, Ibrahim was brought to a place in Morocco whose surrounding cliffs proved huge rivers had flowed 100 million years ago. And there they were– the Spinosaurus fossils Ibrahim had been searching for. 

According to National Geographic, after piecing together the bones with CT scans and digital reconstruction software, the paleontologists “wrapped the skeleton in digital skin to create a dynamic model of the animal’s center of gravity and how it moved. Their analysis lead to a remarkable conclusion: Unlike all other predatory dinosaurs, which walked on their hind legs, Spinosaurus may have been a functional quadruped, also enlisting its heavily clawed forelimbs to walk.”

This finding encouraged Ibrahim and his team to view the Spinosaurus as an animal spending its days in water rather than on land. With that perspective, the rediscovered dinosaur began to make more sense. 

National Geographic explains that the placement of the nostrils would have allowed the animal to breathe while its head was submerged. The barrel-shaped torso was similar to that of dolphins and whales. While the disproportionate hind legs wouldn’t be ideal for walking, they would have been perfect for paddling. It’s long, croc-like jaws and teeth would have been a great tool snacking on a large fish. 

While it is still believed that many dinosaurs spent time in nearby rivers and lakes, Ibrahim believes the Spinosaurus would have spent about 80 percent of its time immersed in water. This belief makes the Spinosaurus the first of its kind. That is until the next dino-mite discovery!

Photo credit: National Geographic 

From Deep Sea to Outer Space: Experts Weigh in on Pressurized Suits

This blog post is courtesy of Kit Matthew, The Children's Museum's Chief Science Educator. Kit helps infuse science throughout the museum by working alongside the exhibit and education departments, and by seeking out researchers and engineers who have interesting science stories and discoveries for us to share with visiting families.

Our bodies are finely tuned to life on Earth. You don’t even have to think about the fact that at any given moment every square inch of you is being pressed on by 14.7 pounds of atmospheric pressure–talk about having a lot of weight on your shoulders! Fortunately there is air inside our bodies balancing out that pressure, allowing us to survive on earth.

When we travel to extreme environments to explore unknown conditions—like outer space or deep in the ocean—our bodies have to contend with the changes in external pressure. Engineering is needed to create solutions to help balance the pressure and keep our bodies safe. Introducing… life support suits! (Think Tony Stark, according to a recent New York Times article.) 

We called on our museum experts who have traveled to space—Extraordinary-Scientist-in-Residence/Former Astronaut, Dr. David Wolf—and deep in the ocean—Extraordinary Underwater Archaeologist in Residence, Dr. Charles Beeker—to weigh in on this new incredible technology and how it plays a pivotal role in essential research work that needs to take place in these extreme environments. 

Dr. David Wolf and Dr. Charles Beeker

Exploration of outer space reached an extraordinary milestone with the Apollo 11 lunar mission in 1969 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. How was that even possible in the thin atmosphere of outer space?  What did that space suit really do for Armstrong to protect him and yet allow him to walk?

Now instead of journeying outwards away from earth, think about journeying deep under water. A similar problem needs to be solved—protecting the diver while allowing them movement to explore and do work. With the development of the advanced diving suit, much like Armstrong’s suit for outer space exploration, this becomes possible—a huge breakthrough!  

These new atmospheric pressurized diving suits are being initially tested at depths limited to 1,000 feet, but in the future they could allow divers to go much deeper and work up to 2.5 days without surfacing!  

There are a lot of moving parts that are required to protect from the extremes—both in space and in the ocean. We need:
•    Oxygen delivered to our lungs at just the right pressure to fuel our tissues—too much or too little would have catastrophic consequences on your body and blood chemistry. 
•    Control over our body temperature from extremes of hot and cold—temperature can vary over 500 degrees in a matter of minutes. 
•    A very tough, tear resistant suit for working with heavy and sharp equipment. 
•    Reliable communications with our other team members 
•    Dexterity to move around and handle tools without quickly exhausting the diver or astronaut. 

These are complex requirements to solve all at once. New products, like these suits, are cyclic—initial design, test models or prototypes, re-design, build the real thing, and adjust based on feedback from users under real conditions. Each iteration allows us to explore further and be more productive.

For example, this picture is a prototype spacesuit, called the AX-5, that NASA tested in the 1980's.  For space it keeps the internal pressure above the much lower ambient pressure of space. It wasn't used in space, but it showed us how to build better suits like those now used on the International Space Station.  

Oceans and space are oddly similar next frontiers!  This new, exciting engineering helps us advance our knowledge in both extreme environments.

Conserving Captain Kidd's Cannon

CannonBy Ashley Ramsey Hannum, Archaeology Lab Assistant

Have you been wondering if we would ever finish treatment on Captain Kidd’s cannon? You certainly wouldn’t be alone. Cannon #4 from Kidd’s Quedagh Merchant, which sank off the coast of the Domincan Republic in 1699, has been undergoing conservation treatment in the National Geographic Treasures of the Earth exhibit since 2011. The lengthy treatment, called electrolytic reduction, helps remove all of the salts that the cannon absorbed from 300 years in ocean water. The process also helps remove the thick layer of minerals and concretion that built up over that time. 

After years of conservation, the cannon is finally ready for the last stages of treatment. The first—and most challenging—step is boiling the cannon in highly purified water. The boiling water creates tiny bubbles inside the pores of the iron, helping to remove the final amounts of salt and minerals. 

You may be thinking, how does one boil a 1,500 pound, over 6 foot long piece of iron? Since we certainly don’t have a stove that big, we had to get creative. The Museum’s awesome facilities team had the idea to divert steam from one of the building’s giant boilers, typically used to heat the museum, through the water in the cannon’s tank. Theoretically, the heat from the steam should bring the water to a boil. 

We placed the cannon in an 8 foot long, galvanized steel water trough, designed for holding water for livestock. Steve, our HVAC extraordinaire, created some custom copper pipes, which brought steam from the boiler through the water. The steam took quite a long time to heat the water. Imagine how long it takes to boil about a gallon of water to make spaghetti. Well, we needed to boil 220 gallons of water to cover the cannon. It took almost 7 hours to bring it to a boil! 

After a couple weeks of intermittent boiling, all of the last salts were successfully extracted. The cannon is now soaking in an alcohol bath to dehydrate it without exposure to air. Once all of the water has been removed, it will be ready for its final coating and sealants. The cannon can then be safely stored in air without risk of rapid deterioration. 

New shipwrecked artifacts are now installed in the exhibit, and the process begins all over again!

Treasures of the Earth gallery manager, Josh Estes, visits Captain Kidd's cannon.
Cannon then

Conservator Christy O'Grady shares the cannon with visitors in the Wet Lab.

Christy and Ashley carry out final steps in the cannon's conservation treatment.

Cannon Cannon

Saturday Science: Handmade Microscope

Saturday Science: Handmade Microscope In a past Saturday Science, we learned how to use a drop of water as a magnifying glass. Today we’re going to kick that up a few notches and use a drop of water and a laser pointer to make a working laser microscope. You’ll be able to see single-celled organisms moving around inside the laser beam!


  • Pond water 
  • A laser pointer (you can often find inexpensive ones for $3-$5 near the check-out at the store)
  • A paperclip or copper wire
  • A binder clip large enough to fit around the laser pointer
  • Scotch tape
  • A white surface



  1. Straighten out the paperclip, then wrap most of it around the front part of the laser pointer, leaving about an inch sticking out in front of the hole where the beam comes out. If you’re using copper wire, give yourself 3-4 inches so you have plenty to wrap around the laser.
  2. Secure the paperclip/wire to the laser pointer with tape.
  3. Carefully bend that leftover inch of paperclip/wire into a small circle, a little bigger than the laser pointer’s lens hole. Make sure it is centered right in front of the hole so the laser beam passes through it. This will hold your water drop.
  4. Clip the binder clip around the laser pointer closer to the front. Keep the two “arms” on the clip where they need to be to open/close it because they are the stand you will use to make sure your microscope holds steady.
  5. Dip your loop of paperclip/wire into your pond water. Carefully remove it, making sure there is a crop of water suspended inside the loop. If you’re having trouble getting the water droplet to stay inside the loop, make sure the loop is complete all the way around and the paperclip/wire is touching itself, forming a full circle. If there is space between one end of the loop and the other the water will have a hard time forming a stable drop.
  6. Carefully set your laser pointer down, using the binder clip as a stand, and point it at your white surface. Turn off all the lights in the room.
  7. Press the button to shine the laser beam through the water drop. It will show up on your white surface much bigger than normal and you’ll be able to see things moving around inside it. Experiment with distance: move the laser pointer closer to or further from the white surface to see what it takes to get the best focus and the sharpest image.



What are those things moving around in your laser beam?

Well, some of it is just the movement of the water. But the small dots and blobs are microorganisms that live in the pond water, like paramecia and amoeba. These single-celled organisms swim around the water using tiny hair-like structures called cilia or flagella. There may even be some single-celled plant-like lifeforms called diatoms. Your laser microscope isn’t powerful enough to make out fine details in these microorganisms, but how cool is it that you can see them moving around in the beam of a laser?

This works because the water drop is similar in shape to the lens of a real microscope. A lens takes the light waves moving through it and bends them so they start traveling outward as they leave the water drop. The laser beam continues expanding until it hits the white surface. The microorganisms swimming around in the pond water get in the way of the light, which means they cast shadows inside the laser beam. Those shadows are what you see moving around in the light.

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Saturday Science: Sky in a Glass

Saturday Science: Sky In A GlassIt’s an age-old question: Why is the sky blue? 

With this week’s Saturday Science experiment, from Sciences 360, you can do more than answer this question when your kiddos ask; you can show them, too! 


  • Water
  • Milk
  • Clear glass cup
  • Flashlight



  1. Pour some water into the glass cup.
  2. Shine the flashlight through the sides of the glass. The water should be clear. 
  3. Keep the flashlight light shining through the glass and add drops of milk to the water one at a time. 
  4. Keep adding drops of milk until your mixture becomes blue. 


Why did the milk turn your water blue? For the same reason the sky is blue! 

Milk contains tiny molecules of protein and fat which are nearly the same size as atmospheric dust. As you added drops of milk to the water, the beam of light emitted by your flashlight hit these tiny molecules, absorbed the energy, and then re-emitted it in different directions.

The same thing happens in our atmosphere when sunlight encounters tiny bits of dust. According to Sciences 360, “These particles absorb energy from the incident light, vibrate, and then re-emit the light, scattering it in all directions.” While all colors are scattered, blue and violet are scattered the most. This phenomenon is known as Rayleigh scattering. 

Rayleigh scattering makes our milk mixture and our skies blue because it is the blue light that reaches our eyes, which are more sensitive to blue than violet.

Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.

Saturday Science: Pretty Pennies

Saturday Science: Pretty PenniesFind a penny, pick it up, and all day long, you’ll have good luck. 

But why is it that most of the pennies you find are covered in brown dirt and grime? Is there a way to make your lucky penny shine brightly? You bet! In this week’s Saturday Science, found on The Teachers Corner, discover how to clean pennies with just a little ketchup and a little elbow grease. 


  • Several old pennies 
  • Ketchup (or anything with vinegar: hot sauce, mustard, salad dressing, or just plain old vinegar)



  1. Squirt some ketchup onto a plate. 
  2. Place 3 to 4 pennies into the ketchup. 
  3. Add a little more ketchup so that all the pennies are covered. 
  4. Let them sit for a minute or two. 
  5. Now, get your hands messy! Rub each penny with your fingers, and then rinse it off in a sink. 


What happened? The ketchup made your pennies look like new! 

Before they became bright and shiny, your pennies were covered in copper oxide. Similar to rust, which is formed by the combination of iron and oxygen, copper oxide is a brown matter formed by copper and oxygen. 

The Teachers Corner explains that “when you put the penny into the ketchup, the vinegar in the ketchup combines with the copper oxide to form a chemical called copper acetate. Copper acetate dissolves in water, so you wind up with a nice, bright penny.”

Now give your bright and shiny penny to a friend, and then your luck will never end!

Saturday Science: Water Magnifier

Saturday Science: Water Magnifier When something is so small you can barely see it, how do you find out what it is? Why, use a magnifying glass, of course! In this week’s Saturday Science experiment, found on, discover the magic of magnifiers with just a drop of water. 



  • 2 by 3 inch piece of cardboard
  • One-inch square piece of thin, clear plastic
  • Pair of scissors
  • Tape
  • Water
  • Spoon 
  • Newspaper



  1. Carefully cut a dime-sized hole in the middle of the cardboard.
  2. Set the clear piece of plastic over the hole and tape it down. Tape it around the edges, without covering the hole. 
  3. Fold each end of the cardboard down 1/4 inch.
  4. Dip the tip of the spoon in the water. Hold the spoon directly over the center of the hole, and let one drop of water fall onto the plastic.
  5. Set a piece of newspaper with print on the table.
  6. Carefully lift the magnifier and set it down on top of the paper.
  7. Look straight down through the top of the water drop.


When you looked through your magnifier did the printing on the paper appear to be magnified? 


A magnifying glass works because its shape bends the light waves passing through it. As the light waves leave the other side of the lens, it bends them so that they start traveling outward. By the time the light waves hit your eye, they’re much more spread out, and the thing you’re looking at appears larger. 

The water droplet in this experiment is doing the same thing! As it sits on the clear plastic, it takes a shape similar to the lens in a magnifying glass, and it spreads out the light before it reaches your eye.

Saturday Science: Water-Walking Wire Critters

Saturday Science: Water-Walking Wire CrittersHave you ever been at the lake, pond or even an outdoor pool and watched a bug land on the surface of the water and scurry around without sinking? Did you wonder how that little insect was capable of walking on water? To answer that puzzling question, we found this week’s Saturday Science experiment at Science Friday. Let’s make some water-walking, wire critters! 


  • Large bowl 
  • Water
  • Roll of thin (about 30-gauge), plastic-coated wire 
  • Sharp scissors or wire cutters
  • Paper clips 



  1. Cut a 12-inch piece of plastic-coated wire. 
  2. Bend the wire into a flat shape. This is your critter! 
  3. Fill the large bowl with water. Let rest until the surface is still. 
  4. Gently place your critter horizontally on top of the water. (If it doesn’t stay on the surface the first time, try again.) 
  5. Take your critter out of the water and dry if off. 
  6. Gently place your critter vertically in the water. 
  7. Take your critter out of the water and dry it off. 
  8. Gently bend your critter so that it can hold a paper clip above the water. 
  9. Gently place it back in the water. 
  10. Add a paper clip. 
  11. Repeat until your critter sinks beneath the surface. 


When you placed your critter horizontally on top of the water, did it float or sink? 

Thanks to surface tension, your water-walking wire critter floated! According to Science Friday, “surface tension is caused by the attraction, or cohesion, of individual molecules to one another in a liquid.” When you gently placed your critter on top of the water, its weight was evenly distributed over an area of water and didn’t break the cohesion between the molecules. That caused your critter to “float” or “walk” on the surface of the water, even when adding additional weight with paper clips. But when you placed your critter vertically in the water, did it float or sink? It sank! This is because a vertical critter takes up a much smaller surface area, so the weight cannot be evenly distributed. When you placed your critter vertically in the water, the cohesion between the molecules broke, and your critter sank straight to the bottom of the bowl. 


Saturday Science: Handmade Horn

Saturday Science: Handmade HornDuring this Month of Sound we’ve made a couple of instruments that have helped us experiment with sound. This week we’ll make one final instrument to round out your homemade orchestra. You have a flute and a kazoo and now it’s time to add in the brass section with a homemade horn!



  • A disposable rubber glove 
  • A plastic drinking straw 
  • A plastic water bottle 
  • A pair of scissors 
  • A rubber band 
  • Masking tape or painter's tape



  1. Snip a tiny hole in one of the fingers on the glove. Cut a few inches off of the straw and insert your new piece of straw in the hole. Tape it in tightly!
  2. Cut off the bottom of the plastic bottle. Have an adult help you make it even so it doesn’t snag or cut your skin.
  3. Put the glove over the top of the plastic bottle and wrap the rubber band around it to hold it as tightly as possible. You don’t want any air to be able to leak out!
  4. Hold your new horn so that the straw is in your mouth and the water bottle faces straight up and then blow through the straw. You’ll hear a loud foghorn sound!


How loud can you play your horn?

With the glove tightly attached to the nozzle of the bottle and bent upward toward your mouth, not all the air you blow into it gets out at the same time. Since the glove is made of a stretchy, or elastic, material, it stretches out, lets some air through, and then contracts, or gets smaller again, and then stretches out to let more air through. This cycle repeats as long as you are blowing into it, but it happens very quickly, which makes part of the glove vibrate, which creates sound waves that travel into the water bottle. The sound vibrates the bottle and the air inside it, which creates resonance, more than one sound wave vibrating at the same frequency and making each other louder, which is why the horn is so loud.

Unlike your other instruments, your horn can’t change pitch to create different notes. But if you want a horn with a lower note, just cut the top and bottom off a second plastic bottle so you have a hollow tube and tape it onto the bottom of your first tube. Since it’s larger, it will vibrate more slowly and resonate with a deeper sound. If you cut the first bottle extra short it will vibrate faster, creating a higher sound. How many different kinds of horns can you make?

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Saturday Science: Secret Sounds

Saturday Science: Secret SoundsWe already know that sound is made of sound waves, vibrations traveling through the air to your ears. But can these sound waves travel through something other than air to your ears? How about a solid object? Let’s find out!



  • A wire coat hanger
  • Some string, yarn, or twine
  • Scissors
  • Something to use as a drumstick (a fork, a spoon, a pencil, an actual drumstick, etc.)



  1. Cut two pieces of your string, yarn, or twine about 1-1½ feet long.
  2. Tie your pieces of string to the corners of the wire hanger.
  3. Wrap the other ends of the string around the very ends of your index fingers a few times. Make sure it’s not so tight that it hurts or cuts of the bloodflow to your fingertips!
  4. Have an adult tap the long bottom part of the hanger with your makeshift drumstick while you hold it up. What does it sound like?
  5. Now stick your index fingers in your ears and have the adult tap the hanger again.



What did it sound like with your fingers in your ears?


The sound that you heard was something only you could hear! Anyone standing close to you would have heard the same sound you heard the first time the hanger got tapped. That sound was the hanger sending sound waves through the air to everyone’s ears. When you wrap your fingers with the string and stick them in your ears, though, the sound waves vibrate the string, which sends those vibrations into your fingers and then directly into your ears!  Sound actually travels through solid objects more easily than through air because the molecules, the tiny particles that make up everything, are closer together in a solid object.


Sound can travel through liquid, too. Try this out next time you take a bath: tap a fork on the side of the tub under the water. What does it sound like? Now stick your head under the water and tap the fork again? Is it different when you’re under the water, too?


As long as there are molecules to vibrate, sound can travel. This is why sound can’t travel through space: empty space has no matter in it, so no molecules to vibrate!


Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.


Saturday Science: The Sound Sandwich

Saturday Science: The Sound Sandwich Let’s make a sandwich! We’re not talking about a sandwich you can eat for lunch, but rather a sandwich that makes beautiful sound! In this Saturday Science experiment from Exploratorium, discover how small adjustments to vibrations can raise or lower the pitch of sound.  



  • 2 jumbo craft sticks
  • 1 straw
  • 1 wide rubber band
  • 2 smaller, thin rubber bands
  • Scissors



  1. Wrap your wide rubber band lengthwise around one of your jumbo craft sticks.
  2. Use the scissors to cut two 1-inch pieces of straw.
  3. Put one of the small straw pieces underneath the wide rubber band, about a third of the way down from the end of the stick.
  4. Take the other craft stick and place it on top of the first one.
  5. On the same side where you placed the straw piece, wrap one of your thin rubber bands around the end of the sticks, about a half an inch from the edge. The rubber band should pinch the two craft sticks together.
  6. Put the other small piece of straw in between the two craft sticks, about a third of the way down from the end of the stick. Don’t put the straw underneath the wide rubber band this time.
  7. Now, wrap your other thin rubber band around this end of the craft sticks, about a half an inch from the end. There should be a small space between the two craft sticks created by the two pieces of straw.
  8. Put your lips against one of the long edges of the craft sticks, between the small straws, and blow through the sticks! Did you make a sound?
  9. Move the straws closer together. Does the sound change?



When you blow into the Sound Sandwich, you make the large rubber bands vibrate, and that vibration produces the sound. Think back to the straw flute we made last week: different vibrations create different sounds. Long, massive objects vibrate slowly and produce a low-pitched sound, while shorter, less massive objects vibrate quickly and produce a high-pitched sound. When you moved the straws closer together, you shortened the part of the rubber bands that can vibrate, so the pitch is higher than the pitch of the original sound. If you watch closely when someone else is playing the sound sandwich, you can watch the rubber band vibrate!


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Saturday Science: Straw Flute

Saturday Science: Straw FluteThis week’s Saturday Science experiment, courtesy of Deceptively Educational, is music to our ears! Discover how sound waves make music by creating a straw flute. What song will you play?



  • nine straws

  • ruler

  • scissors

  • clear tape



  1. Set aside the first straw – no cutting required.

  2. Line the second straw up against the ruler. Measure and cut two centimeters off the bottom of the straw.

  3. Line the third straw up against the ruler. Measure and cut four centimeters off the bottom of the straw.

  4. Repeat this process for straws four through nine, cutting two additional centimeters off the bottom of each straw (6, 8, 10, etc.).

  5. Lay a long piece of clear tape sticky side up on your table or work station.

  6. Stick the longest straw to the tape.

  7. Stick the second longest straw to the tape right next to the first. The tops of the straws should be even with each other.

  8. Repeat this process, longest straw to shortest, until all of the straws are stuck to the tape.

  9. Wrap the remaining tape around the straws so that the straws are secure.

  10. Play your straw flute by blowing air over each straw!



What sounds did your straw flute make? Which straws made a high-pitched sound? Which straws made a low-pitched sound?


Sound is a wave, a vibration traveling through the air to your ears. The way a sound wave sounds to your ear is known as its pitch. The wave that creates it is measured in frequency, or the number of sound waves that hit your ear in a certain amount of time. A high-pitched sound is made by a high-frequency wave and a low-pitched sound is made by a low-frequency wave.


If you vibrate solid objects they make the air around them vibrate, creating sound waves. This happens when you blow through the straws in your straw flute. The different lengths of each straw vibrate with different frequencies, creating different pitches of sound. These pitches create different notes that allow you to play a song.


If you want to really see this in action, pluck some strings on a guitar. You can watch them vibrate and see how the high, thin strings vibrate faster than the low, thick ones.


Did you know that different animals can make and hear different sounds than humans? Dogs and many other animals can hear pitches that are too high for our ears. Whales, when they sing their whale songs, sometimes create pitches that are way too low for human ears, but whales can hear them just fine for hundreds of miles across the ocean!


Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.