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For STEM Friday we have a 2018 AAAS Subaru Children’s Science Book Prize Finalist, Try This Extreme: 50 Fun & Safe Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You by Karen Romano Young and photographs by Matthew Rakola.

What is extreme about this book? It explores extreme temperatures (for example, the effect of cold on glow sticks), extreme environments (test survival skills) , and extreme animal abilities (for example, exploring the insulating power of whale blubber). It is also extremely engaging.

As we've come to expect from National Geographic Kids, the book is illustrated with fantastic color photographs. What makes it stand out is that it features real kids performing the experiments, and includes some of their comments, plus readers gets to meet all the kid scientists on pages 10 and 11. Seeing their peers doing the experiments draws kids in and empowers them to try some themselves.

The back matter includes all the science standards for each experiment, plus a very handy index.

For busy parent and educators, Try This! Extreme could be a real life saver. With clear step-by-step instructions and using easy-to-obtain materials, children can take the lead with these projects. Plus, it is super cool!

Age Range: 10 and up
Publisher: National Geographic Children's Books (September 26, 2017)
ISBN-10: 142632863X
ISBN-13: 978-1426328633

Let's do a hands-on science experiment for older kids inspired by the book:

Soda Floating and Sinking

Imagine you are working in a restaurant. Someone has filled two taps, one with diet soft drink and one with regular soft drink. Unfortunately, no one knows which is which. The store manager doesn’t want to serve the public the wrong soft drink, and the two taste similar enough that there are some questions. Should she throw out the soft drinks, or can you tell which is regular and which is diet using science?

If you know something about the density of different types of soda, you might be able to help.

Density can be calculated using the formula:

density= mass divided by volume

Materials:

  • Large plastic bin, sink, or tub
  • 4 unopened cans of different flavors of regular soft drink
  • 4 unopened cans of different flavors of diet soft drink
  • Water
  • Table top kitchen scale
  • Calculator

Part 1. Observe the density of soft drink cans placed in a large container filled with tap water.

Do you expect the unopened cans of soft drink to float, sink, or stay in the middle when placed in tap water? Given that the cans likely contain an equal amount of aluminum and fluid, do you expect any differences in how the different kinds of soda will behave?

Fill a plastic storage bin, sink, or tub with tap water. Place the unopened cans of regular soft drink and diet soft drink in the water. Observe whether the cans float or sink.

(For a quick peek at the expected results, see this video)

Did what you observed match your predictions?

soft-drink-bottles
Public Domain Photograph by Peter Griffin at PublicDomainPictures.net

Part 2. Determine the density of unopened cans of soda

  1. Turn on the kitchen scale.
  2. Make sure it reads zero (is tared).
  3. Place an unopened can of soda on the scale.
  4. Write down your data in a table like this one:density-table
  5. Record the kind of soda
  6. Read and record the mass of the can in grams.
  7. Locate the volume of the can in milliliters and record it.
  8. Repeat steps 2-6 until you’ve weighed 4 cans of regular soda and 4 cans of diet soda
  9. Using a calculator, calculate the density of each.

What is going on?

Soft drinks are actually complex mixtures containing a variety of substances such as colors, flavors, acids, sweeteners, preservatives, and caffeine. For example, soft drinks contain phosphoric acid, which gives them a tangy taste. Phosphoric acid can also acts as a preservative, keeping the contents of the bottle fresh.

Which of these ingredients, if any, might explain the different densities observed? Read the nutrition facts of the regular soda and diet soda. Do you notice any ingredients that are contained in large enough amounts that they might result in the differences in density between diet and regular soda? How much of that substance is in regular soda? How much in diet?

Finally, how might you figure out which soda is which in the example described at the top?

Want more? See our growing list of children's books with hands-on science experiments at Science Books for Kids.

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

It's hollyhock season again.

Some plants just have flower buds.

Others are flowering.

Once again, having a certain kind of plant means having a certain kind of insect.

In this case, the insects are oblong-winged katydid nymphs.

Wow, those antennae are so long.

I checked, and I had found the same kind of katydid nymphs on May 1, 2013. They were also on hollyhocks.

I only have a few hollyhock plants in my yard, and I'm pretty sure none of my immediate neighbors have them. I wonder how the katydids even find them, let alone show up with such regularity.

I guess if you eat mainly hollyhocks, you're probably pretty great at finding them.

The rush milkweeds are lovely this week.

They are flowering.

Here is what the plants looked like on March 19, a month ago.

The stems were covered with oleander aphids.

On April 17, 2018 you can't find a single aphid.

What did I do to get such clean plants?

Nothing. Let nature take its course.

Insects like aphids have boom and bust cycles.

Back on March 19, these aphids were under attack. They were turning into mummies, which means they were parasitized by tiny wasps.

The aphids were also being eaten by flower fly larvae, aphid flies, and a few other insects.

Inside, the plant might have been mounting a defense, too. Plants can increase their chemical fortifications in response to insects feeding on them. Milkweeds are well defended because they contain cardenolide toxins, as well as a milky latex. The aphids can overcome the plants toxins better than most insects, but eventually it is probably has a toll and the aphids are weakened.

Although they are gone right now, the oleander aphids are likely to be back again. It is a natural cycle.