Family Science

A March from the Teensy to the Grand

by rockprogram on Feb. 29th, 2012 No Comments

We are focusing on the teensy and the grand this March, in honor of NanoDays at the Academy and a helpful website for understanding the difference in scale from the tiny on up to the universe.

Taking it to the Molecular Level

NanoDays from NISEStarting with the very tiny, NanoDays will be celebrated at the Academy March 24th – April 1st. Head on up to the Naturalist Center to take part in investigations and play games which relate to the role miniscule structures have in our human-sized lives. There will be activities appropriate for all ages. Check the Naturalist Notebook or give the Naturalist Center a call to find out more.

Nano to the Universe

SEM image of a sponge

A seventh grade science class gave Cary Huang the inspiration to start creating the Scale of the Universe 2 (SotU2) with his brother. It’s now an internet sensation amongst my science friends. After a year and half of work, the now ninth-grader and his twin brother Michael released the SotU2 which allows you to explore the super tiny all the way up to the known universe. That’s 10-35 m all the way up to 1027 m. Isn’t it exciting that a science class started it all?

Hubble Ultra Deep Field from NASA
After exploring the SotU2 with your children, you could also visit Vast and Undetectable a free art exhibition which explores the same ideas as Cary’s animation, the teensy and the grand. Located downtown at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery on Van Ness, see how artists interpret the same information that you explored as scientists. As a family you could pick your own idea from the SotU2 and work as artists to interpret it.

Solar System Scale

Solar System with Planets to Scale from NASA

Looking up, our planet will experience an equinox this March 19th in San Francisco and March 20th if you happen to be in London. I used to think that an equinox was when the amount of daytime was the closest to equalling the amount of nighttime, but it turns out that I was incorrect. That describes an equiliux. An equinox is actually a precise point in time when the center of the sun as we see it passes over our equator’s imaginary line projected out into space. For a more detailed explanation see Steve Owens’ blogpost.

You could start a sky journal with your children. Decide together what you will call “sunset” and then record the time of sunset once a week for a month or longer. If you start right around the time of the equinox you will find there’s quite a change every week. The amount of change will slow down as you get closer to the solstice. You could even record where you see the sun setting as well. You will find that the sun won’t set in exactly the same place every week!

An activity to try at home which helps to reinforce the too-big-to-see scale of our Solar System and practice math skills is our Pocket Solar System activity. Teachers report using it with 3rd to 8th graders with success. Younger children may need help with the fractions, but it’s a great introduction to them. The materials list includes register tape (those rolls of paper used for receipts at cash registers), but feel free to make your own one meter length of paper. We’ve heard of educators using a roll of toilet paper, a strip cut from wrapping paper, a strip cut from waxed paper and taped together pieces of regular paper.

image credits:
Family exploring molecule Gary Hodges, Sciencenter
SEM image of sponge Petr Jan Juračka
Hubble Ultra Deep Field NASA, ESA and B. Mobasher
Solar System Planets to Scale NASA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory

Leave a Comment