The Science of Snow and Frost

Snow Studies: Crystals & Frost

With chilly temperatures and icicles, we have the perfect winter for some great snow studies this year! The white coating that covers our landscape here in New England not only offers opportunities for winter sports, but it is also a great creative medium that can support science studies too! The chemistry behind snowflakes and frost are just waiting to be discovered!

CRYSTALS

Kids can use snow, ice, and frost to learn about crystals – a concept that they’ll eventually encounter when they study chemistry, but will understand much better if they have some firsthand experience with them. Snowflakes are a beautiful form of crystals, each one showing off a microscopic symmetrical design of spears, points, indents, and cutouts. Be sure to read the book Snowflake Bentley (by the talented Mary Azarian), a true story about the Vermont man whose curiosity about snowflakes lead him to be the first to photograph them! It would be pretty tricky to make snowflakes at home, but with a magnifying glass and a small square of black fabric, you can take a semi-close look at them when you venture outside. See if you can identify a difference between the shape and size of snowflakes and the snowy clumps that fall during each snowstorm we get… Read the rest of this entry »

STEM Opportunities at The Great Holyoke Brick Race

STEM Opportunities at The Great Holyoke Brick Race

Intergenerational collaborations can provide young students with hands-on lessons in the basic science of physics and principles of design at the 5th Great Holyoke Brick Race happening on Saturday, June 4th!

Take on the coolest gravity based physics experiment around at the Great Holyoke Brick Race!  Similar to the Boy Scouts of America’s traditional Pinewood Derby, the event requires that participants create their own miniature car to race down a specific track.  However, unlike Pinewood Derby, the cars are not wooden – the main piece of material is a brick!

Sponsored by Paper City Studios and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the race is open to participants of any age and from anywhere in the world (No need to be a Holyoke native!).  Entries can be created by individuals, or by teams of any size, allowing for lots of intergenerational collaboration and knowledge pooling.

The event can be used as a means of providing hands-on physics learning.  Each car will need to be carefully designed and built with attention to the basic principles of physics.  Depending on the age of participants, car-building can lend itself nicely to in-depth explorations of mathematical ideas and the principles of design, too!

The race will take place on Saturday, June 4th, 2016 on Race Street in Downtown Holyoke.  Check in for racers will begin at 10am. Event runs 11am-3pm  For more specific information regarding entries, as well as design suggestions, visit the race website: www.brickrace.org.

Yo-Yo School Can Unlock Secrets of Physics!

Yo-Yo school encourages understanding of physics alongside tremendous manual dexterity

The yo-yo sleeps for now but this simple object, containing two discs, one axle and long string, is an instrument for gravity-defying trickery, which requires some grounding in the principles of physics.

Not many toys can boast over 2,500 years of use worldwide, but the yo-yo has enjoyed consistent use in hundreds of cultures for nearly three millenia. Seemingly moved by magic, the yo-yo is little more than a well-designed tool to demonstrate basic principles of physics. Consisting essentially of a spool and a string, yo-yos (when in the hands of a skilled operator) can spin, jump, hang, and bump in patterns that are so graceful and speedy that they seem almost impossible. And for those of us with few yo-yo skills, they may feel impossible to perform, too!

Luckily, folks who want to learn to better understand the physics and physical movements behind yo-yo tricks have numerous resources available to them – including both weekly classes and a world class championship right in western Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley! Popular education-based store A to Z (located on King Street in Northampton) hosts Yo-Yo School three times a week inside their store, and their teachers are true masters. Amongst the crew of talented yo-yoists are a world champion and a world class competition judge! A visit to A to Z Yo-Yo School ensures expert instruction and access to a wide variety of yo-yo styles and colors – if you don’t have a yo-yo at home, you’ll be able to pick out a favorite before class begins.

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Become A Math Citizen Scientist & Reveal Whether It’s Heads or Tails

Investigating the Flip of a Coin Opens the Door to Math Education

Exactly how reliable and fair is the coin toss? For a coin toss to be completely fair, a coin needs to be perfectly constructed. Be a math citizen scientist, and join the project in figuring out the coin toss!

Flipping a coin is perhaps the most bias-free means of problem solving known to man. The simple choose-a-side-and-flip procedure leaves decision making entirely up to fate, providing quick solutions without debate. And it’s perfectly fair. Or is it?

According to statistics, coins should fall equally on their head or their tail. Scientifically speaking, a coin could technically also land on its grooved edge, but this is exponentially less likely to occur. Mathematically speaking, the occurrences of heads landings are essentially equal to the occurrences of tails landings that take place when a coin is flipped many times in a row. In order for this to be true, a flip must truly provide circumstances under which a coin is equally as likely to land on one side as it is to land on the other. In short: a coin’s weight distribution must be such that it isn’t slightly more likely to lean towards one side over the other.  Read the rest of this entry »

Science on Screen Series at Amherst Cinema

The Law of Physics and Groundhog Day
Science on Screen Series at Amherst Cinema

What does the tradition of Groundhog Day have to do with learning science? Well, when you throw in a classic Bill Murray film, the three things combine for an interesting examination of time loops and the physics behind such a concept!

As part of the Science on Screen series, Amherst Cinema will screening Groundhog Day on Monday, February 3rd at 7pm. A comedic classic, the film features Murray as a TV weatherman sent out on his least favorite annual assignment – covering the emergence of Punxsutawney Phil from his hole. Much to his horror, Murrary’s character gets snowed in after the event, and wakes to find himself in a time loop where he experiences Groundhog Day over and over and over. Eventually, he is forced to get creative with his extra lopping time and works to become more in touch with himself.

Along with the film, the event will feature a discussion with Amherst College physics professor Dr. Kannan Jagannathan. Using the film as a reference, Jagannathan will discuss time travel’s presence in fiction and the roots of such stories in physics principles (or not!). While there is a place in science for examining the potential for time travel, there is much more space for examining the rules of physics broken within plots that include time traveling adventures. Jagannathan will point out instances of such rule breaking in the film, and will help viewers to understand Einstein’s theory of relativity and the ways in which it applies to the instances from the film.  Read the rest of this entry »

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