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Spring is in the air. What a wonderful opportunity to get outside and go for a walk. Do you have a favorite trail or park to visit? What about the local nature center, arboretum or botanical garden? Take a few minutes from your hectic schedule and go on a stroll.

While you are outside, take a look around at the spring flowers. In some areas you may see the pussy willows just starting to bud and snowdrops peaking through melting snow. In other areas, the poppies may be starting to wane as the heat builds up. Wherever you may be, stop and enjoy the color and beauty of flowers.

You might be wondering what a nature hike has to do with science, even though it is certainly fun. It turns out you can do science while on a nature hike and it won't even be hard.

Take a closer look at the flowers you find. Notice if you can smell anything. Are the flowers all one color or are they a mix of colors within a single flower, like the darker orange patches in the yellow flower below? Are there any insects around? Observing is an important science skill, which is simple to do and can lead to further explorations. Do you find the plants in a certain place, such as out in the open or hidden under some brush? Do the plants change over the season? All of these observations can lead to further questions and even to experiments.

Do you know what kind of plants you are finding? Classifying is another important science skill, but it doesn't necessarily mean you have to learn the scientific name of everything you see. Classifying can simply mean grouping things based on similarities and differences. For example, you can group all the flowers you see based on the their color, leaf shape or size. Is the flower you are seeing now is the same as the one you just saw over there, or is it different? With children, start a conversation about how they would name the flowers. You can also ask how they would find out the name others have given the flowers.

When you get home, you might want to look up the common and/or scientific names of one or two of the flowers. There are many excellent books or you can use Internet sites like this one from Texas. In any case, hope you have an enjoyable weekend.

nasturtium

lacewingI just have to share the beautiful insect I found this morning on my hollyhocks. Look at the rainbow colors in her wings and her shiny golden eyes. She is so delicate and ethereal.

The lacewing is one of the many insects considered to be beneficial that you may find in your yard. Her larvae feed on other insects such as aphids, whiteflies and lacebugs. The larvae are like tiny alligators with curved jaws sticking out in front. If I find one, I'll try to get a picture to add here.

I have two ideas for today and they both have to do with fat.

First, did anyone read the Weekend Fun for making cheese? One of the cautions was to watch out because the milk can suddenly bubble up and over the pan when heating. I have had that experience a couple of times. I began to wonder why milk would act this way whereas water does not.

The answer goes back to the fact that oil and fat float on water. While heating, the milk fat forms a layer at the surface, repressing the activity of the liquid underneath. At boiling temperatures the fat layer splits all of a sudden, allowing the liquid underneath to roil up violently. Soymilk, with added oils, can have the same reaction.

How would you test this idea? I would suggest seeing whether heating nonfat milk had the same reaction. Then add oil to nonfat milk and do the test again. What happens? Do you have any other ideas?

The next part has to do with another kind of fat. Take a look at this article on how the species of bacteria in your gut during early childhood may determine whether you are obese later on.

I knew a little about how important gut microorganisms are in other creatures. My favorite critters, the insects, have many bacteria and/or protozoa inside them performing all sorts of roles. For example, termites can't really digest the wood they eat. They carry tiny organisms inside that are able to digest wood. Without them, the termites would starve.

Obviously we have a lot to learn about our own relationships with microorganisms.

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