Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer 2013: Day 10

Mike Coble talking about forensics.
Today was the last day! It was so sad! In the morning we welcomed back some of the middle school teachers from previous summers and focused on forensics. Mike Coble gave a presentation on his work in forensics, which included solving the mystery of the last two Romanov children. He also prepared an activity explaining how and why they use specific DNA markers over other DNA markers. After he was finished, we split into two groups.
Counting Chromosomes
One group went to a presentation by Bryan Goehring about ways to use forensics in the classroom. It was really neat how he created a story for the kids to solve. It is a six week project which allows the students to apply science in a real life situation.
Bryan Goehring talking about forensics
The other group went to tour a lab with Matt Staymatts. He works on detecting particulates on people or things that are connected to drugs or explosives. They tested a twenty dollar bill, and there were trace amounts of morphine on it. Most American money carry trace amounts of drugs, not because of all the drug deals, but because the money involved in drug deals eventually circulates back to banks and through counting machines. The counting machines are then contaminated and contaminate all the other bills passing through. They also showed us two 3D printers that they were in the process of printing some things they were using. They also have an optical bench set up in such a way that they can see heat gradients. It was a really good lab tour.

For lunch, we went to Dogfish Head Alehouse as a group. It was fun to have a big lunch together to celebrate the week. It was also really delicious and quite filling.
The closing ceremony
After lunch, we had the wrap-up and ceremony. We presented each teacher with a personalized poster, a certificate and printed pictures of the week. Mary talked about all the great contributions each teacher made to the program. It was a really nice end to the program.
The Reception
To close off the day, we had a reception for NIST staff. There was food, a slideshow, and lots of people to talk to about the week. It is so fun seeing the great relationships the teachers have built with the scientists. It was a sad end to an amazing experience, but a great way to reflect on all the amazing things we did.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Summer 2013: Day 9

Paul Stutzman talking about his research
We started off this morning with a geologist, Paul Stutzman. He talked about his research in cement and in pavement forensics. It is amazing all the different aspects there are to pavement. He then took us out to the NIST Stone Wall. This wall was built out of many different types of stone and is an experiment as to how different stones wear over time. It was really neat to see all the different types of stones. After our visit at the stone wall, we took a tour of his lab. It was really interesting.
The NIST Stone Wall.
Checking out all the rocks.
Checking out rocks in the lab.
The afternoon was spent in one-on-ones with scientists. Afterword, we had a ice cream social with the Organic Metrology group. It was fun to socialize with the scientists and to enjoy a cool treat especially on such a hot day. It is always nice to have time to get to know the scientists and have a little break.
Ice Cream time!

Enjoying a little treat.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer 2013: Day 8

Ryan Fitzgerald explaining how to test the different blocks
We continued our discussion of temperature this morning. Ryan Fitzgerald came in and did an activity on how we sense temperature. Using cubes the same size but made of different materials, we had to determine which one was the coldest. The metal one felt the coldest, but after doing some measurements, all three blocks (wood, plastic and metal) were the same temperature. The teachers also played with amazing ice melting blocks, one made of wood and one of metal. It was amazing watching one block melt the ice so much faster than the other block.
Working together to make temperature measurements
Waiting for the temperature to stabilize.
Watching the ice melt.
These measurements also induced a conversation about measurement standards. It was noticed that the value changed after multiple measurements of the same block. Rob asked what the procedure was for measuring temperature at NIST. Ryan talked about isolating the one variable that was changing as much as possible. He also talked about using two sets, two probes and then take averages of the differences in measurements. It is amazing to think about all the different ways we inadvertently affect the measurements we do.
Sam Ho showing the proving rings.
After the temperature time, we had a few minutes to go over the lessons and take a break before splitting off into the two tours. Half the group went to the ballistics testing facility and half to the million pound force machine. The million pound force machine group got lost for a little bit, but eventually, we made it to the facility. Sam Ho gave us a great tour of the different machines and talked about how important it was to measure forces. He showed us a proving ring, which deforms under weight and can be used to precisely measure force. He then gave us pennies that were crushed with 30,000 pounds of force.
Playing with the proving rings.
The weights for the million pound force machine. They each weigh 50,000 lbs.
Testing out the crushed pennies.
After lunch, the SPS interns came back and had a circuit building session. Everyone got to put together a light sensitive theramin and test it out. After a little frustration and some trial and error, almost everyone got their parts to work! It is always exciting when something works out.
Carolyn and Ben talking about Mass Spec
The final activity of the day was mass spectronomy with Carolyn Burdette and Ben Place. They gave an overview of mass spectrometry and how it sorts particles based on mass. A similar activity can be done with water balloons and a slingshot. After weighing the water balloons and measuring the distance they flew, a celebrated curve can be drawn. The curve can then be used to determine the mass of other water balloons which had gone specific distances when launched. It was a really good demonstration for a fairly complicated piece of technology and a really fun way to end the day.
Launching the balloons.
Reporting the results.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Summer 2013: Day 7

This morning started off with a review of all the things we had learned at NCNR the day before. It was quite a bit of an overload, but there were a lot of great things that can be used in the classroom. We were especially appreciative of the excitement and enthusiasm for science from the scientists we met.

Bob McMichael talking about magnets.
Then we played with magnets! Bob McMichael works on detecting magnetic fields. He was able to demonstrate the way the machines can do this by using fridge magnets as cantilevers. The teachers were able to feel the different fields across big chunks of magnets. They also used field viewers to see the magnetic fields of different magnets. It was really cool.
Playing with magnets

Greg Strouse talking about thermometry.
The afternoon was spent working with temperature. Greg Strouse gave an introduction about why temperature measurement is so important. One of the things he mentioned was temperature control for storing vaccines. Vaccines don't work as well if they aren't stored in the proper temperature range. There was an activity in the lab that was based around this idea. They also had other lab stations with activities to measure boiling water, ice water and activities involving dry ice. The dry ice was really fun because they used it to cause neoprene gloves to expand like a balloon. They also made bubbles using dish soap, water and dry ice. Dry ice is always fun to play with.
Testing out the new thermometers.
Testing out vaccine storage.
Filling the gloves with dry ice.
Dry ice hands.
Dry Ice bubbles.
Measuring temperature
As a nice finale to the day, we made liquid nitrogen ice cream! They mixed together the ice cream "batter" and then scooped some out into cups. They also poured cups of liquid nitrogen and everyone got to mix their own. It was a very tasty end to a fun day!
Mixing together the ice cream part.
Liquid Nitrogen
Stirring it all together

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer 2013: Day 6

Dan Neumann welcoming the teachers
Juscelino Leao talking about making neutrons.
There is no better way to start of a week then with a nuclear reactor. Today was our visit to NCNR, The NIST Center for Neutron Research. It was really amazing. Dan Neumann welcomed us out to the center and then Juscelino Leao talked with us about Making Neutrons. He talked about the nuclear reactor and how it is designed specifically to minimize heat and maximize the number of neutrons produced. When running, it produces 1011 neutrons neutrons per cm2 per second. They did a chain reaction demo using ping pong balls and mouse traps similar to the one seen below.

He also had a lot of questions about safety. Luckily, with all that radiation, there are very strict safety procedures in place. One year working at NCNR is less radioactive exposure than being on a flight from New York to Los Angeles, and about 5 x-rays. We also learned about the barn, which is the unit for the chance neutrons will hit an atom.
On the tours
We went on tours where we visited with six different scientists. They talked about the equipment and how it can be used to understand neutrons or different properties of materials. One of the cool labs was where they characterized fluids, and they gave us a sample of a shear thickening liquid. It looks a little like water, but after it is shaken, it turns in to a gel. It was amazing to see all the different things that can be done with neutrons.

After the first tour, we went back to the classroom to grow crystals. The most difficult part was tying a string around the seed crystal. After making an over-saturated solution in warm water, the containers were set aside, and the crystals would grow for the rest of the week. Hopefully, they will turn out.

Michael looking at the end goal.

Nichole getting help on the solution.

Laura checking that the concentration is right.

And then we wait.
We also talked about diffraction, specifically diffraction through crystals. The patterns seen, when shining a laser or neutron source through a material, can determine the molecular structure of that material. This is especially important in material science. Understanding different molecular structure has potential applications in development of new materials.
Jerry looking at a diffraction pattern.
The day was also full of classroom tools or "toys" as they are sometimes called. Everyone got a laser and diffraction gratings, optical fiber wands, luggage scales, choose-it balls, and the invisible bead jars. They were all great demonstrations of the work done at NCNR and have applications in the classroom.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer 2013: Day 5

Dat Duthinh talking about earthquakes.
It's earthquake day! Dat Duthinh came in today to talk about earthquakes and why building behave the way they do. He did a demonstration with metal rods of different lengths topped with tennis balls. Contrary to what we expected, the largest tower didn't shake the most, the shorter one did. However, when he changed the frequency with which he was shaking the demonstration, he could choose which building was swayed the most. He also passed around a globe that was segmented on the faults. It was really neat.

Looking at the fault line globe.
Building trusses.
Building the shear walls.
We also spent some time building a lot of earthquake demos. We built I-beams, shear walls, jello buildings, and bridge trusses. It was amazing how quickly it all came together. They also had pressure blocks and the tennis ball demos for everyone. It provided great ideas for ways to teach about earthquakes.

With Carl Williams in the industrial elevator.
After lunch, Carl Williams took a group on the tour to see the kilogram artifact used at NIST. This is one of the daughters of the original artifact kept in France. The masses are checked to make sure they are within 14 micrograms of a pound. After getting back, the teachers had one-on-one meetings with scientists. It seemed like a really good experience for all the teachers.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Summer 2013: Day 4

Caleb explaining the sensor activity.
This morning started out with a visit from the SPS interns, who presented the Science Outreach Catalyst Kit (SOCK). The first activity involved measuring rope, but unbeknownst to the teachers, the sticks were different lengths. After reporting their results, the "longest" rope and the "shortest" rope were compared, and it turns out, they were the same length. The second activity involved playing with different types of sensors. They measured the change in resistance to determine the frequency produced by the theremin when hooked up to the sensors. It was a little complicated, but shows the importance of sensors in science.

Measuring Rope
Measuring resistance.

Going "Ballistic"

The SOCK presentation was followed by tours of the Ballistic Testing Facility and the Million Pound Force Machine. The group was split in half, so only half of the group visited each facility. The Ballistics Testing Facility was really cool. They showed us the bullet resistant vests and the materials inside of them. They also showed the ceramic plates that slide into the center of the vests. We visited the shooting range where they do their testing and Michael got to fire a test shot. They even let us walk away with a pulverized bullet!
Looking over a bullet resistant vest.
The ceramic plate

The firing range.
Looking through the barrel.

The clay block and its vest waiting for a shot.
A few of the interesting facts:

  • In order for bullet resistant vests to also be knife resistant, the kevlar is woven in with a higher thread count. 
  • All the layers of bullet protection, including the ceramic plate, weigh about 40 lbs.
  • The barrel of the test gun they use is interchangeable, so they can test different types of bullets
  • The explosive power used in their test gun, if used in a handgun would cause the handgun to break after only a few shots.
  • The firing range lab was built so that even if a rifle bullet were to ricochet off target, it wouldn't penetrate through the walls.
  • They use infrared sensors to determine the speed of the bullet.
Ready, Aim, FIRE!!!

That hole doesn't look very friendly.

At lunch, the representatives from NOAA came to talk with any of the teachers who were interested.
The visitors from NOAA

John Heddleston with his great DNA videos
The afternoon consisted of the Mycomuncher DNA lecture by John Heddleston and DNA puzzle. The lecture was really interesting and had lots of great videos. The puzzle required a lot of cutting and mod podge to get it all together, but it was a nice activity to recover from the business of the morning. We also had time to work on lesson plans, and to get the laser pointers tested. It was quite a busy day.
Building the puzzles

Testing the laser pointers.
Edna Tobares of the Safety Office came by to test our laser pointers. Turns out that many "safe" laser pointers are higher-powered  than they should be, and also may leak harmful infrared radiation. 

The day was extended with a special visit from Terry Quinn, emeritus director of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, who came by to show the watt-balance he had made with his grandson. This device made with legos and a few electronic components can measure the weight of an object using the same principal that NIST and other metrology institutes are using to determine an intrinsic unit of mass. Soon all the SI units will be measured using fundamental units of nature instead of physical artifacts like the block of iridium and platinum that is the current kg.