When Recycling gets Extreme

April 22 is Earth Day, a great time to celebrate all the ways science is helping to make our world greener. Founded in 1970, Earth Day is a movement to fight pollution and promote conservation. Recycling often receives attention on Earth Day. The Environmental Protection Agency says recycling and composting prevented 86.6 million tons of material from being disposed in 2012 (the most recent year listed on their website). But, some people go a step beyond placing their bin at the curb every week. Here’s a list of inventors and scientists who used recycled products to create interesting new products.

Cardboard Bike: Israeli inventor Izhar Gafni captured the imagination of people around the world last year with a bicycle made almost entirely out of cardboard.

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Recycled 3D Printer: West African inventor Kodjo Afate Gnikou made a $100 3-D printer from leftover parts scavenged from old scanners, computers and printers.

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Water-Recycling Shower: Swedish industrial designer Mehrdad Mahdjoubi created a high-tech purification system that recycles water while you wash.

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Plastic Cigarettes: Recycling entrepreneur Tom Szaky collects cigarette butts from volunteers and turns them into plastic.

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Barrel Skateboards: Steve Raad and Jeff Dyke recycle old barrels into everything from portable beach chairs to skateboards.

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Potato Wood: Professor Andrew Abbott developed a new wood-based product that uses a resin based on starch from completely natural sources, including potatoes.

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Coffee Socks: Gihan Amarasiriwardena created odor-fighting socks made of recycled coffee.

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Want more “green” science? Celebrate Earth Science Week at MiSci, April 21 – 26 as we study Earth’s biomes, learn about the sun, explore the weather, discover fun ocean facts, enter the world of trees, dig into recycling, and journey into the underground caves. Or, register for our ecology Spring Break camp. We’ll see you here!

Celebrating Kids in Engineering

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Some of the world’s most promising scientists and engineers gather every year at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Only the brightest and best – about 1,600 – are invited to attend from among nearly 7 million contenders. The attendees present original research on some of today’s most challenging problems – and they’re not even in college yet. This competition is just for high school students.

In 2013, the three students receiving top honors were, Ionut Budisteanu, 19, of Romania; Eesha Khare, 18, of Saratoga, California; and  Henry Wanjune Lin, 17, of Shreveport, Louisiana.

Even if our kids are years from high school, or aren’t international science superstars (yet), we can still show them that science is fun and exciting. Here are details about these students’ projects and suggestions for exploring similar types of science at home.

At ISEF: Ionut Budisteanu used artificial intelligence to create a viable model for a low-cost, self-driving car. With 3-D radar and mounted cameras, Ionut created a feasible design for an autonomously controlled car that could detect traffic lanes and curbs, along with the real-time position of the car.

At Home: Want to build your own car at home? Review these instructions for creating a mouse trap car.

At ISEF: Eesha Khare recognized the crucial need for energy-efficient storage devices. She developed a tiny device called a supercapacitor, which allows an LED to fully charge within 20 – 30 seconds. Eesha’s invention has potential applications for car batteries and cell phone batteries.

At Home: Learn how to build your own power source while exploring electricity with a fruit battery.

At ISEF: By simulating thousands of clusters of galaxies, Henry Wanjune Lin provided scientists with valuable new data, allowing them to better understand the mysteries of astrophysics, including dark matter, dark energy and the balance of heating and cooling in the universe’s most massive objects.

At Home: Download one of these apps to help teach your child coding skills.

At MiSci, we’ve been celebrating engineering with our Kidstruction Zone exhibit. This special space is designed to inspire the engineer in all of us with build zones featuring k’nex, LEGO® bricks, Keva planks, and more. Kidstruction Zone will temporarily close on March 31, but will be back in June. We look forward to seeing you there!

How does my brain understand?

Guest Blogger: Brianne Mohl
Wayne State University Student

DSC_8637Have you picked up the newspaper or a favorite book and wondered, “How does my brain know this?”  Translating random symbols into meaningful ideas is a wondrous process, better understood through neuroscience. Yet questions remain why some experience a whole new world when reading, while others struggle and associate it with torture.  Exploring mechanisms responsible for our differences in the ability to read requires us to identify key elements we must develop to master it.  Slip back a few years as you consider these elements now automatic for you. As a reader, you must:

1.  Pay attention to what you are reading.

Attention uses many areas of your brain, including the prefrontal cortex (in the front on the outside part of your brain), basal ganglia (deep inside the middle), and parietal lobe (top, back part).  All these areas need to communicate with each other, so you can focus on what you are reading.

2.  Know letters and what they represent.

Seeing letters is possible thanks to your eyeballs sending signals through neurons to the back of your brain. Once your brain combines the signals, it sends the information to another area, the fusiform gyrus, to figure out what you are seeing.  After the letters are identified, it’s on to making the correct sounds.

3.  Put letters and sounds together in your head to “read” a word.

An area of your brain called the angular gyrus (just above where the seeing, hearing, and processing sections meet) is really good at taking written words and  turning them into sounds in your head.  With the angular gyrus hard at work, you can figure out what new or silly words, like “glerpy”, sound like.

4.  Remember the words you have just read.

Working memory is much like attention – many parts of your brain communicate to keep thinking about what you just saw. Beginning readers need working memory to think about sounds before putting them together into words. Expert readers use working memory,putting words together to form sentences and paragraphs. Without working memory, long sentences wouldn’t just be tough to understand; they would be nearly impossible.

For some, these elements are not completely developed… leading to frustration and difficulty reading. As you may be able to translate, the brain does an incredible amount of work to be capable of this function.  We hope you’ve been inspired by the human brain’s magnificence – thanks for reading!

Imagineering Camp

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Thank you, campers, for spending your mid-winter break with us! We had a blast exploring engineering and the basic laws of physics along with real life applications. We’re looking forward to even more science fun at our upcoming Spring Break Camp!

Engineering fun!

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Engineering is a profession that affects everyone, even though most of us don’t recognize it. After all, where would we be without the products and technology we use every day? February 16 – 22 is Engineers Week and we’re celebrating at MiSci with fun engineering activities throughout the building. Plus, we’ll also have mid-winter “Imagineering” camp, just for young engineers.

Looking for even more ways to teach your little scientist about engineering? These hands-on toys are great for bringing the family together while learning about engineering principles.

Mouse Trap: This board game resembles a Rube Goldberg machine and lets players build crazy contraptions, including many simple machines that work together to capture the mice. Just remember, the last mouse remaining wins!

K’NEX Amusement Park Series – Star Shooter Roller Coaster Building Set: The K’NEX Star Shooter Roller Coaster lets children become engineers while learning about real-world physics. This build-it-yourself coaster is also a great way to get ready for your own amusement park trip this summer.

Who Shook Hook?: Based on the Disney® television show, “Jake and the Never Land Pirates,” this simple yet fun game encourages children to think strategically while working as a group. Players try to carefully remove pieces from an unbalanced hammock, without dropping Captain Hook!

GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine: A newcomer to the toy market, GoldieBlox strives to inspire the next generation of female engineers. This game and book package encourages girls to build, while developing spatial skills and encouraging an interest in math and science.

Which engineering-inspired games or toys are your favorites? Please share them in comments.

The “King”of Butterflies

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Monarch butterflies, the most widely recognized of all American butterflies, and considered by many to be the most beautiful, are often referred to as the “king” of butterflies … thus their royal name.

Found throughout North America, one of the most notable traits about the monarch is its astounding 3,000 mile journey to wintering grounds in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Mexico and southern California. In one year, the first three generations hatch from their cocoons, lay eggs and live for only six weeks, but the fourth generation, the “great grandchild,” lives for six to eight months, migrating to a warmer climate and hibernating before starting a new first generation in the spring. Other fun monarch facts include:

  • Monarchs are poisonous. In their larval stage, caterpillars feed off milkweed and the poisonous toxins are stored in their body.
  • A monarch’s migration can cover up to 2,500 miles, just to get away from the cold!
  • Monarchs can flap their wings up to 120 times per minute and fly between four to 12 miles per hour.
  • A monarch’s bright orange wing is a signal to warn predators that they’re toxic.
  • Monarchs smell with their antennae and taste with their feet!
  • Want to know the gender of a monarch? Males have a black spot on top of a vein on their hind wings, but females do not.

Have we piqued your interest about these fascinating creatures? There’s more to explore. See The Flight of the Butterflies now showing on Michigan’s only IMAX® dome screen and follow a scientist’s quest to unravel the mystery of the monarch butterfly migration. Then learn more about butterflies with us in our Wish Upon a Butterfly exhibit. Feed live butterflies and see their life cycles in person. Discover more about the exhibit and the film on our website, then come on down!

Happy Birthday to us!

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With so many holiday festivities taking place this time of year, December birthdays sometimes get overshadowed; but that’s not the case at the Michigan Science Center (MiSci). Put on your birthday hat, because we’re celebrating our 1st birthday this week (Dec. 26) and we’d love for you to come and join us. Speaking of other December birthdays, Charles Babbage – considered the father of the computer – shares the same birthday as us.

Thanks to our presenting sponsor Comerica Bank, general admission is free all day, so be sure to stop by and enjoy some cake.

Fantastic accomplishments

We had some awesome achievements this year. As we ring in the New Year and end of our first year, we want you to know that we:

  • Had more than 170,000 visitors over the course of the year
  • Exceeded our funding goal
  • Impacted 50,000 people with our outreach programs

Our birthday wish

We have one birthday wish and that is to continue to touch more lives with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and make it more accessible to everyone.

Chilling facts about snow!

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Whether you love it, or down right hate it, winter has arrived (officially it starts on Dec. 21). Here in Michigan, we experience many cold and snow days throughout the season. So to get us ready, we’ve found 10 interesting facts that might give you a new appreciation for winter.

  1. Research has proven that no two snowflakes are alike.
  2. Snow is actually translucent, not white. It looks white because of the way the light reflects off ice crystals.
  3. Blizzards occur when visibility is less than a quarter mile, the winds are 35 miles per hour or more and the storm lasts at least three hours. Anything less is considered a snowstorm.
  4. The coldest temperature ever recorded was in 1983, when the temperature dropped to  -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit at the Vostok research station in Antarctica.
  5. The world record for the largest snowfall in a single day was set on Dec. 4, 1913 in Georgetown, Colo. The city received 63 inches of snow – that’s more than five feet!
  6. The record for the most snow angels at one time was set in Bismarck, ND, on Feb. 17, 2007, when a couple of schools joined forces to create 8,962 snow angels.
  7. The world record for snowfall in a season goes to the Mt. Baker ski area in Washington State for its 1,140 inches (about 95 feet) of snow in the 1998/1999 winter season.
  8. Every winter at least one septillion (that is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) snow crystals fall from the sky!
  9. Ten inches of snow melts down to only 1 inch of water.
  10. “Romantic Feelings” – the world’s largest snow sculpture – was 656 feet long and 115 feet tall. A team of 600 amazing sculptors unveiled it at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival held on Dec. 20, 2007.

Gifts for young scientists

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It’s getting down to the final days for holiday shopping — are you sweating yet? If you’ve been dragging your feet or lost track of time, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. There are still plenty of options for quick (and quality) gifts for the budding scientist in your life.

Here are some last minute science gift ideas to save the holiday and keep your little one learning without even realizing it:

1. T-REXcavator by Uncle Milton: This gift is the perfect toy for young paleontologists. It’s similar to the classic toy “Operation” and comes with trivia and bone excavating cards that have facts about dinosaurs.

2. Live Butterfly Garden by Insect Lore: A gift that can be fun for the entire family, this butterfly garden comes with a coupon to send away for five caterpillars. The caterpillars are mailed to your home; and everyone can watch the amazing transformation of caterpillars to butterflies.

3. Snaps Circuits RC Rover by Elenco: With this kit, your child can build a working, remote-controlled rover that features specially designed snap-together electrical parts.

4. Potato Clock by Toysmith: We normally eat potatoes, but did you know you can also use them to power an alarm clock? A reaction occurs between the different materials in the electrodes that interact with the minerals to create electricity.

To purchase these gifts, visit the Michigan Science Center’s Explore Store where all of these items and many more are available for purchase today – did we mention we’re having a sale? Or, keep it simple and:

Just click here to learn how to purchase these great gifts! Whatever you decide on, we’ve got you covered.

Lights, camera, action!

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The Michigan Science Center (MiSci) is home to some really unique attractions, from the Dassault Systèmes Planetarium and interactive exhibits to the Chrysler IMAX® Dome Theatre, the largest dome theater in Michigan, which will surely amaze your family. Let me tell you why.

The Chrysler IMAX Dome is a hemispherical screen that wraps the entire theater, making you feel immersed in the movie. Built in 1978, the theatre is 7,600 square-feet in size, which is more than 1,000 50-inch TV screens! Not only is the movie screen big, but the film used for the movies is 10 times larger than regular film stock, giving IMAX movies their incredible clarity. Of course, no ordinary projector can be used in such a setting; the IMAX projector uses a 15,000 kilowatt projector bulb that is so powerful you can see it from the moon with the naked eye!

IMAX films take a lot of work to record. For example, a 40-minute, 2D IMAX film print consists of about 57,000 film frames. If you were to stretch the film out, it would span three miles! The MiSci IMAX theater uses an IMAX film format which is unique to our theater because many IMAX theaters are switching to digital formats. IMAX film is estimated to be up to 27 megapixels, much more resolute than digital. To enhance the movie-watching experience, the MiSci IMAX theater has a 6.1 surround sound system with 44 speakers designed to enhance sound clarity.

Just like any movie theater, the location of your seat matters – we suggest sitting in the middle to get the full effect of the movie. If you’re having a hard time deciding which of the awesome movies to watch at the MiSci, “To The Arctic” is a current favorite and is a blast to watch for everyone in the family. Other options include “Tornado Alley” (don’t miss your chance to watch this exciting film before it closes January 5) and the upcoming “Flight of the Butterflies” (opens January 11).

If you want to feel like you’re part of the action and are ready for a spectacular movie experience, visit the Chrysler IMAX Dome Theatre and see what all the fuss is about!