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.


  1. Wow! What a very cool day. I wish all the days we're as neat as this. Eye opening labs, Homade sensors, ballas tic testing, DNA transcription sticks, laser pointing, and famous scientists building things with legos.

  2. What a fun and interactive day! The Million Pound Force Machine was an awesome informative tour... cannot wait to go on the Ballistics Testing Facility tour!

  3. Love the ballistics lad, cool stuff.