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bee in airThis morning I took a few minutes from my daily grind to take a few photographs. The garden is in full bloom and a loud buzzing attracted me to the side garden. Here is what I found. Do you know what it is?

This tiny bee is known as a digger bee. The flower it is visiting is a penstemon. Digger bees are fun to watch because they are cute and furry. This one was definitely aware of me. It came over and checked me out a couple of times. I wonder what I looked like to it?

If you are interested in bees, you should check out my lesson plans titled "Africanized Honey Bees on the Move." Some of the lessons have information about solitary bees such as this one.

Today let's do some bubble science. Most of us have used bubble formulas or solutions sold in stores, and they make great bubbles. But what if you are out of bubble formula and can't get to the store to buy any? Are there any other products you already have around the house that will make bubbles? You probably can think of a couple of things right off hand. Now let's give them a try.

Part 1. Testing the products
You will need:

-A bubble wand or similar tool for blowing bubbles, such as a spool
-A few small containers, such a small paper cups, big enough for the wand to easily fit inside
-Household products to test, such as dish detergent, shampoos, hair conditioners, toothpaste, laundry soap, hand soap, hand sanitizer, sunscreen and hand cream. You might also want to try blowing bubbles in milk and cream, without adding water. Use your imagination to come up with things to test. Note: Stay away from potentially dangerous products such as toilet bowl cleaners.

First, try to blow a bubble with just water. Can you do it? Put some water into a container, and then swish it with the bubble wand and blow. What happens?

Dump out your test compound after each test into a sink and rinse the container completely, or use a fresh container for each test so the products don't interfere with each other.

Squeeze a nickel-sized blob of household product in a container and add about the same amount of water. Stir the mixture with the bubble wand. What happens? Do any bubbles form? Now, load the wand and try to blow a bubble. Does it work? If not, try to add a bit more water and try again.

What about toothpaste? Doesn't it make small bubbles when you brush your teeth? Could you blow a bubble with your toothpaste?

After you have tested all the different products, which gave the best bubbles? Typically dish detergents and shampoos should work well, but some brands are better than others. If none of the products made good bubbles, then you might want to try again using bottled water with your products. Tap water can have minerals or other chemicals in it that make it difficult for bubbles to form.

Part 2. Improving the formula

You will need:
-Equipment from Part 1
-Household products that worked best for producing bubbles, from Part 1
-Corn syrup

Commercial bubble formulas often contain glycerin to help the bubbles last longer. But glycerin is expensive and may be an allergen. Will adding sugar or corn syrup make bubbles last longer?

Try this recipe. Mix 1/2 cup of your best product with 1/2 cup water in a container. Try a few bubbles. Then add 1/4 cup of granulated sugar and stir well. Try blowing a bubble. Do the bubbles seem any different after the sugar was added? What about the marks the bubbles leave after they pop? Do the marks seem different?

Now mix 1/2 cup of your best product with 1/2 cup water again. This time add 1/8 cup of corn syrup and mix well. What happens to the bubbles this time? Which mixture do you prefer?

If you are interested in finding out more about bubbles and doing more bubble experiments, be sure to check your local library for books on bubble and soap science.

Have any of you caught the Master Blasters show on the Science Channel yet? The premise of this wacky reality show is that the Master Blasters team takes on a visiting team in a challenge to construct some sort of rocket-based machine and then blast it off. Dan Stroud and Terry Stroud (father and son) form the core of the Master Blasters team. The rest of the members vary from show to show.

Alert! If you are offended by salty language, give this show a miss.

In the first show I caught, the challenge was to blast up a rocket, have it land safely, deploy a robot vehicle, return the vehicle to the rocket and take off again. In the short time allowed, the teams were not able to design and build something that really worked. One did crash in a spectacular way, however.

Most of the blogs I checked pretty much panned the show. I have to say that I did enjoy the reality show flavor and the fact that it showcased people having fun with science. Although the science definitely took a back seat to entertainment in many cases, I can see some young viewers developing an interest in rockets and rocketry by watching. It looked the teams were having a blast (pun intended).

This show comes with a bold "Do not try this at home" message. The dangers of working with rockets are readily apparent as team members duck flying debris and the fire crews race to put out fires. These are real problems encountered when working with rockets. I know someone who started a vacant lot on fire with a small rocket when he was a kid. His parents had to call the fire department to come put it out. Under different conditions, he could have caused a lot of damage. Hopefully, the message will get through to potential rocketeers.

If you are looking for other inspiring tales of rockets, try the 1999 movie October Sky. This movie is rated PG and also has mild profanities and scenes of rockets blowing up. One the plus side, it does show how a childhood interest can literally lead someone to become a rocket scientist.