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Celebrate summer with some seaside science!

From Fossils to Fantastic Fluids

Ahhh summer holidays, the perfect time to get the bucket and spade out and head to the beach!

Do you like looking for treasures in rock pools? Splashing in the surf? Building sandcastles? Slurping up cooling ice cream? Or all of the above! Here are some top ideas for adding some science to your summer, and don’t worry if you aren’t heading to the beach, there are ideas for you to bring the seaside to your kitchen table! 

 

1: Find a fossil – beaches are the perfect place to look for fossils. With a bit of help you can see fossils in lots of other places too! Learn how and where to look with the help of the UK fossil network

 

2: Chill ouuuuuttttt with weird ice cream – There’s more than one way to make ice cream – some methods need liquid nitrogen! Our Seaside Science Jumbo Box includes a low tech, foolproof activity where you can make your own! (evidence below!)

make-your-own-ice-cream
If you’re feeling creative, you can also get novel with your flavours too! In fact, curious foodie, Heston Blumenthal had a go at making chicken curry ice cream!

We’ll stick to mint choc chip thanks HB

3: Get up close and SANDY – Sand is amazing stuff! With our DIYnamic Sand activity, you can make your own slithery sand and learn about how Isaac Newton can help us answer the question Why is my sand slithery? While we won’t give everything away here, it has a lot to do with Non-Newtonian Fluids, which crop up every day in life and explain why your ketchup can be so tricky to get out of the bottle!

Sticking with sand, you can take a look at Dr Greenberg’s microscopic photographs of sand from all over the world. This video shows you his 3D microscopic images in spectacular detail

4: Make UV Art – Summer is the perfect time to study the sun and sunlight, and one our UV Keyring activity explores photochromism i.e. things that change colour when exposed to UV light (specifically sunlight, although certain kinds of lamps can do this). Certain materials and chemicals react permanently to sunlight. Once unexpected example is beetroot! Beetroot is photosensitive and can be used to create solar powered art like in this video!

Why not have a go at home? We’d love to see your results!

5: Look for Strawberry Anemones – A common and fascinating creature in rock pools around the UK, strawberry anemones are bright red and shiny. Find out more about them with the Wildlife Trusts. Did you know that they also provide Rockpool Safaris!?

Want more? Order a Seaside Science Box on its own, or check out our Staycation Science Club bundle and subscription!

Sun, Moon, Light – MAGIC!

The Summer Solstice

Sunlight. Where would we be without it? It enables us to see (find out about exciting research in this area that our Curiosity Champion Tassos is doing!), plants to grow and controls our seasons. Quite simply, without it, we couldn’t even exist! It’s no wonder then, that so much of our way of life is shaped by the sun. 

Before science helped us to understand what the sun and moon were, and how they work, humans have been guessing at the role of these magical objects in the sky. Our calendar, our sleeping and waking, what we eat and even when we are most likely to have babies are all dictated by the sun.

The Summer Solstice is a centuries-old celebration of the longest day of the year, the day when the sun’s light reaches earth for longer than any other. With so much light around, and the odd eclipse here and there, it is also a great time of year to explore what light really is! 

Spotting the solar eclipse

A partial solar eclipse is where the moon passes between the earth and the sun. Done safely, It’s a stunning thing to see, and if you’re lucky, you can sometimes see the exact moment where the moon is right in front of the sun. This is called an annular eclipse and it looks like this:

annular-eclipse-marek-okon📷 : Marek Okon / Unsplash

There was a partial eclipse earlier in June. Don’t worry if you missed it (it was very cloudy in the UK on the day), we found a stunning slideshow courtesy of BBC Science Focus Magazine of some of the best views of it from around the world!

Invisibility – magic or science?

Making things invisible might seem like magic but a lot of the time it’s just a good ol’ optical illusion. Think about animals camouflaging themselves or those ‘Where’s Wally?’ puzzles? The idea is to trick the eye so you think you can’t see something. And you can try it at home! Here’s a video from our pals at one of my absolute favourite places ‘We the Curious‘ that shows you how!

More Light Science

Explore rainbows, how light travels – and how we can manipulate it to help us solve problems with our Light Box, now available for 4-6 year olds!

Playing with Puffins!

The outdoors is one of the best and easiest ways to explore science. The added bonus is that we know that getting connected to nature makes us feel good too! Renée recently spent a week on Skomer Island, a nature reserve off the west coast of Wales. It’s Puffin breeding season right now, a time she’s always wanted to see first-hand. She also wanted to get up close and personal with puffins and she wasn’t disappointed! Luckily for us, she’s put together a whole heap of resources as part of the Great Science Share for Schools which took place over May and June.

Puffins at Play a talk with Marine Birdlife expert, Annette Fayet

Renée and hosted a live event with Puffin scientist Annette Fayet and ran a Q&A session. Here’s a recording of the whole thing

Photos of the beautiful wildlife that Renee and her family encountered on Skomer

There’s all kind of creatures on Skomer.

  1. Puffins EVERYWHERE!
  2. Short-eared Owl
  3. Spoonbill
  4. St. George’s mushroom
  5. Slow worm
  6. Raven stealing a gull egg
  7. Seals
  8. Razorbills
  9. Guillemots
  10. Lots of different Gulls
  11. Buzzards

Take a look!

Watch Renee’s video diary 

Staying on a Skomer Island is a full-on back-to-basics experience! Renée kept a video diary of her time on the island so that you can see what life is like living off-grid on a nature reserve. You can access the whole series here starting with this episode with Renée waiting to get the boat across!

Read the Great Science Share Blog 

Renee has also written a blog of her experience for The Great Science Share for schools

If you want to get outside and explore the outdoors around you, then take a look at our special offers on Outdoor Curiosity Boxes

Interested in visiting Skomer?

Head over to the South & West Wales Wildlife Trust website for all the details.

Photo credits to Kerry Fisher Instagram: @last_of_the_late_developers

The story of Vaisakhi and why everything is connected

For the Sikh and Hindu community, Vaisakha – the second month of the lunar calendar broadly matches up with April and Vaisakhi (Vah-Sah-key) is the first day of this celebration. Vaisakhi, which falls on the 13th or 14th of April, is when many Sikhs and Hindus will celebrate the beginning of spring, the spring harvest and the role of nature in sustaining the world.

Vaisakhi is a profoundly important day for the 30million Sikhs across the world. It not only celebrates nature, it also marks the creation of the Khalsa in cementing the identity and attributes of the Sikhs! If you don’t know the story – here’s a quick intro.

The formation of the Khalsa

In 1699, 100,000s of people gathered at the Vaisakhi harvest festival where the 10th Sikh Guru called out to those who would stand for what is right. 5 souls stood up Deya (meaning compassion) Singh, Dharam (meaning knowledge) Singh, Himmat (meaning courage) Singh, Mokham (meaning resilience) Singh and Sahib (meaning mastery) Singh and they formed the Khalsa. The Khalsa were the first initiated Sikhs.

They came from different backgrounds and locations and so represented a central tenet of Sikhism that is universality of the human race. It has the concept of “sarbat da bhala” which means “may good come to all.”

Everyone’s talking about Universality

The idea of oneness wasn’t born on that day in 1699. Sikh scriptures date much further back, and discussions of the universe often appear. Sikh scholars had already begun thinking that there was no end to the vastness of the universe, with Guru Nanak (1469-1539) writing “There are earths, beyond earths, beyond earths” and “There are skies above skies and earths below earths.”

This was at a time when most scientists thought the whole universe revolved around the earth (talk about selfish!). At about the same time as Guru Nanak was challenging these ideas, another very famous thinker named Copernicus (1473-1543) also rejected the theory that everything revolved around the earth. Jump forward a few hundred years and we now know the universe is enormous, so much so that scientists in the US have found a light signal from over 15 million light years away!

📷 Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

 

Sikhs also see that everything is connected, so we as humans are all connected to one another and with our surroundings. In this way, god is in everything and can be seen through our relationship with nature. Guru Nanak wrote of god as the universal vibration in that “you are the lake and the swan, you are the lotus flower and the water lily”. We now recognise that you, me, the lake and the lotus flower all come from atoms and particles – though scientists may not describe this so poetically!

So as we head into spring, and the “April showers that bring May flowers”, look up at the skies, the stars (and even those distant stars beyond stars) and marvel at how you are as connected to them as you are to the people and nature that surrounds you!

the-golden-temple-at-night

📷 Mohd Aram on Unsplash

A huge shout-out and thanks to AI/Data Tech expert and dad of three curious girls, Indi Singh for writing this piece and enlightening us all!
A happy Vaisakhi to everyone celebrating! If you want to find out more about Vaisakhi check out this fantastic BBC Bitesize article.
the-golden-temple-at-night

Autism – normal doesn’t matter and never did.

Watching my children grow and develop their own personalities has been an incredible, hilarious and sometimes heart wrenching experience. I like to kid myself that it’s all me, but really, they’re blazing their own trail. Sure I’ve made some genetic contributions and I hope that some of the things I try to teach them stick. But since they were born they have been finding their own way of thinking and doing things. And as far as I can tell, the growing child’s brain is a place of mystery, magnificence and quite often black magic.

What’s normal?

Like all parents (tell me I’m not the only one!) I often find myself thinking “blimey, is that normal?” which gets you thinking…What IS normal? What is actually going on at a genetic and cellular level in a child’s brain when they have an identified disorder, like autism? It’s become clear that there’s an awful lot that we don’t know or understand about autistic spectrum disorders. What causes them, what is happening in the brain and what we can do to help people with autism embrace their way of thinking and looking at the world.

The failed gene quest

Studies have tried to identify a single gene that might cause autism but have failed. A group of scientists in Sweden looked at the occurrence of mutations in the genes of 3,000 children with autism compared to 3,000 children without autism. They found similar mutations in both groups, but none that were only present in the autistic group, and no mutations that were very uncommon. Dr Joseph Buxbaum, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) explained that mutations are most likely to account for roughly 60% of the risk of having autism. But of those mutations about half are common mutations.

This study offers support for the idea that autism is caused by a collection of common mutations. If other complex conditions such as cancer give us any clues then it may be a bit like a lottery – and of all the possible mutations, you need a certain number, of a certain combination of mutations to be autistic.

We’re gonna need a bigger dataset

Many researchers are now trying to use the power of big data computing to find patterns in our genes that will help us to diagnose autism more effectively and earlier. Many of the genes that we associate with autism are linked to neuron development, a discovery which could help us to understand more about what’s physically and chemically happening in the brain. We’re also searching for biomarkers and we’re making progress! These biomarkers are proteins or chemicals that are like flashing beacons, illuminating a faulty metabolic pathway.

Mutations rock!

I try to celebrate the uniqueness of my children. Even, or especially when they’re merrily climbing up my very last nerve. It helps me to remember that on a genetic level at least, we all share some of the mutations that lead to neural diversity. Looking at the research, I’m confident we will be better able to diagnose autism in the very near future. And as the world begins to gain a better grasp of what neural diversity is, how many people it affects and the wonderful ways our brains work – the question is could we and should we look at medical treatment? If yes, what form would that treatment or ‘fix’ take?

We’ve come a long way in learning how to embrace the many talents the neural diverse community possess – yet I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface!

autism-awareness-month

P.S. All our Curiosity Boxes have been designed and curated with sensory learning in mind. Please do check them out!

autism-awareness-month

Create your own Icy Snow Globes

 

Make the most of the chill by doing a wonderful winter science activity that is full of sensory science!

You will need:

  • A teacup (or something waterproof that is dome shaped)
  • Water
  • Lovely things to put in it
  • A seriously chilly night

How to do it

  1. Fill the cup with cold tap water. Poke your finger into the water, how does it feel? You could measure and record the temperature if you have a thermometer.
  2. Find some small objects to put into the water, things like marbles, stones, leaves and flowers work well (although our lavender flowers wouldn’t sink, we still liked the effect). How do your objects feel before you put them in the water? Do they feel different after they have been in the water? Do they look different when they are in the water?
  3. Look for an uncovered, flat surface outside and place your water-filled cup on it, you will need to leave it there overnight. Why do you think the surface needs to be uncovered?
  4. Make a prediction: What do you think will happen to the water and your objects when you leave them out overnight? What changes do you think you will see in the morning?
  5. Rise and shine! Go and have a look at your cup then poke the water, has it changed? What has happened to the water? How does it feel now? Was your prediction correct? You could measure the temperature again and see how different it is!
  6. Caution: this next step will get a bit wet so make sure you do it on a wipeable surface, that is clear of anything that could be damaged by water.
  7. Take a flat plate and put it on top of your cup. Holding the cup and the plate together turn it over so that your cup is sitting face down on top of the plate. Gently lift the cup up, what do you see?  What has happened to the objects in your Icy Snow Globe?

What’s going on?

The temperature is regularly getting below freezing point at the moment and that means that water will freeze! It also means that its the perfect time for a winter science activity! You may have noticed ice on the ground or even had some snow! When the temperature gets below 0 degrees centigrade the molecules in water start to slow down and line up, creating a regular pattern that turns liquid water into a solid, you will know this as ice!  The ice will form from the outside in, where it is closest to the air. This is because the air is colder that the water in the cup. Because there is quite a lot of water in the cup, the bit right in the middle might not have gotten cold enough to freeze. Can you see any bubbles and liquid water trapped inside the icy dome?

Now that you know how to make an icy science snow globe, what else could you do? I think there are so many creative things you could try! Take a look at the little video I made of my icy snow globes with some gem stones in one and nothing in the other on our instagram page Are there other winter science activities using the weird and wonderful properties of water that you could try?

 

Style 2

Celebrate summer with some seaside science!

From Fossils to Fantastic Fluids

Ahhh summer holidays, the perfect time to get the bucket and spade out and head to the beach!

Do you like looking for treasures in rock pools? Splashing in the surf? Building sandcastles? Slurping up cooling ice cream? Or all of the above! Here are some top ideas for adding some science to your summer, and don’t worry if you aren’t heading to the beach, there are ideas for you to bring the seaside to your kitchen table! 

 

1: Find a fossil – beaches are the perfect place to look for fossils. With a bit of help you can see fossils in lots of other places too! Learn how and where to look with the help of the UK fossil network

 

2: Chill ouuuuuttttt with weird ice cream – There’s more than one way to make ice cream – some methods need liquid nitrogen! Our Seaside Science Jumbo Box includes a low tech, foolproof activity where you can make your own! (evidence below!)

make-your-own-ice-cream
If you’re feeling creative, you can also get novel with your flavours too! In fact, curious foodie, Heston Blumenthal had a go at making chicken curry ice cream!

We’ll stick to mint choc chip thanks HB

3: Get up close and SANDY – Sand is amazing stuff! With our DIYnamic Sand activity, you can make your own slithery sand and learn about how Isaac Newton can help us answer the question Why is my sand slithery? While we won’t give everything away here, it has a lot to do with Non-Newtonian Fluids, which crop up every day in life and explain why your ketchup can be so tricky to get out of the bottle!

Sticking with sand, you can take a look at Dr Greenberg’s microscopic photographs of sand from all over the world. This video shows you his 3D microscopic images in spectacular detail

4: Make UV Art – Summer is the perfect time to study the sun and sunlight, and one our UV Keyring activity explores photochromism i.e. things that change colour when exposed to UV light (specifically sunlight, although certain kinds of lamps can do this). Certain materials and chemicals react permanently to sunlight. Once unexpected example is beetroot! Beetroot is photosensitive and can be used to create solar powered art like in this video!

Why not have a go at home? We’d love to see your results!

5: Look for Strawberry Anemones – A common and fascinating creature in rock pools around the UK, strawberry anemones are bright red and shiny. Find out more about them with the Wildlife Trusts. Did you know that they also provide Rockpool Safaris!?

Want more? Order a Seaside Science Box on its own, or check out our Staycation Science Club bundle and subscription!

Sun, Moon, Light – MAGIC!

The Summer Solstice

Sunlight. Where would we be without it? It enables us to see (find out about exciting research in this area that our Curiosity Champion Tassos is doing!), plants to grow and controls our seasons. Quite simply, without it, we couldn’t even exist! It’s no wonder then, that so much of our way of life is shaped by the sun. 

Before science helped us to understand what the sun and moon were, and how they work, humans have been guessing at the role of these magical objects in the sky. Our calendar, our sleeping and waking, what we eat and even when we are most likely to have babies are all dictated by the sun.

The Summer Solstice is a centuries-old celebration of the longest day of the year, the day when the sun’s light reaches earth for longer than any other. With so much light around, and the odd eclipse here and there, it is also a great time of year to explore what light really is! 

Spotting the solar eclipse

A partial solar eclipse is where the moon passes between the earth and the sun. Done safely, It’s a stunning thing to see, and if you’re lucky, you can sometimes see the exact moment where the moon is right in front of the sun. This is called an annular eclipse and it looks like this:

annular-eclipse-marek-okon📷 : Marek Okon / Unsplash

There was a partial eclipse earlier in June. Don’t worry if you missed it (it was very cloudy in the UK on the day), we found a stunning slideshow courtesy of BBC Science Focus Magazine of some of the best views of it from around the world!

Invisibility – magic or science?

Making things invisible might seem like magic but a lot of the time it’s just a good ol’ optical illusion. Think about animals camouflaging themselves or those ‘Where’s Wally?’ puzzles? The idea is to trick the eye so you think you can’t see something. And you can try it at home! Here’s a video from our pals at one of my absolute favourite places ‘We the Curious‘ that shows you how!

More Light Science

Explore rainbows, how light travels – and how we can manipulate it to help us solve problems with our Light Box, now available for 4-6 year olds!

Playing with Puffins!

The outdoors is one of the best and easiest ways to explore science. The added bonus is that we know that getting connected to nature makes us feel good too! Renée recently spent a week on Skomer Island, a nature reserve off the west coast of Wales. It’s Puffin breeding season right now, a time she’s always wanted to see first-hand. She also wanted to get up close and personal with puffins and she wasn’t disappointed! Luckily for us, she’s put together a whole heap of resources as part of the Great Science Share for Schools which took place over May and June.

Puffins at Play a talk with Marine Birdlife expert, Annette Fayet

Renée and hosted a live event with Puffin scientist Annette Fayet and ran a Q&A session. Here’s a recording of the whole thing

Photos of the beautiful wildlife that Renee and her family encountered on Skomer

There’s all kind of creatures on Skomer.

  1. Puffins EVERYWHERE!
  2. Short-eared Owl
  3. Spoonbill
  4. St. George’s mushroom
  5. Slow worm
  6. Raven stealing a gull egg
  7. Seals
  8. Razorbills
  9. Guillemots
  10. Lots of different Gulls
  11. Buzzards

Take a look!

Watch Renee’s video diary 

Staying on a Skomer Island is a full-on back-to-basics experience! Renée kept a video diary of her time on the island so that you can see what life is like living off-grid on a nature reserve. You can access the whole series here starting with this episode with Renée waiting to get the boat across!

Read the Great Science Share Blog 

Renee has also written a blog of her experience for The Great Science Share for schools

If you want to get outside and explore the outdoors around you, then take a look at our special offers on Outdoor Curiosity Boxes

Interested in visiting Skomer?

Head over to the South & West Wales Wildlife Trust website for all the details.

Photo credits to Kerry Fisher Instagram: @last_of_the_late_developers

The story of Vaisakhi and why everything is connected

For the Sikh and Hindu community, Vaisakha – the second month of the lunar calendar broadly matches up with April and Vaisakhi (Vah-Sah-key) is the first day of this celebration. Vaisakhi, which falls on the 13th or 14th of April, is when many Sikhs and Hindus will celebrate the beginning of spring, the spring harvest and the role of nature in sustaining the world.

Vaisakhi is a profoundly important day for the 30million Sikhs across the world. It not only celebrates nature, it also marks the creation of the Khalsa in cementing the identity and attributes of the Sikhs! If you don’t know the story – here’s a quick intro.

The formation of the Khalsa

In 1699, 100,000s of people gathered at the Vaisakhi harvest festival where the 10th Sikh Guru called out to those who would stand for what is right. 5 souls stood up Deya (meaning compassion) Singh, Dharam (meaning knowledge) Singh, Himmat (meaning courage) Singh, Mokham (meaning resilience) Singh and Sahib (meaning mastery) Singh and they formed the Khalsa. The Khalsa were the first initiated Sikhs.

They came from different backgrounds and locations and so represented a central tenet of Sikhism that is universality of the human race. It has the concept of “sarbat da bhala” which means “may good come to all.”

Everyone’s talking about Universality

The idea of oneness wasn’t born on that day in 1699. Sikh scriptures date much further back, and discussions of the universe often appear. Sikh scholars had already begun thinking that there was no end to the vastness of the universe, with Guru Nanak (1469-1539) writing “There are earths, beyond earths, beyond earths” and “There are skies above skies and earths below earths.”

This was at a time when most scientists thought the whole universe revolved around the earth (talk about selfish!). At about the same time as Guru Nanak was challenging these ideas, another very famous thinker named Copernicus (1473-1543) also rejected the theory that everything revolved around the earth. Jump forward a few hundred years and we now know the universe is enormous, so much so that scientists in the US have found a light signal from over 15 million light years away!

📷 Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

 

Sikhs also see that everything is connected, so we as humans are all connected to one another and with our surroundings. In this way, god is in everything and can be seen through our relationship with nature. Guru Nanak wrote of god as the universal vibration in that “you are the lake and the swan, you are the lotus flower and the water lily”. We now recognise that you, me, the lake and the lotus flower all come from atoms and particles – though scientists may not describe this so poetically!

So as we head into spring, and the “April showers that bring May flowers”, look up at the skies, the stars (and even those distant stars beyond stars) and marvel at how you are as connected to them as you are to the people and nature that surrounds you!

the-golden-temple-at-night

📷 Mohd Aram on Unsplash

A huge shout-out and thanks to AI/Data Tech expert and dad of three curious girls, Indi Singh for writing this piece and enlightening us all!
A happy Vaisakhi to everyone celebrating! If you want to find out more about Vaisakhi check out this fantastic BBC Bitesize article.
the-golden-temple-at-night

Autism – normal doesn’t matter and never did.

Watching my children grow and develop their own personalities has been an incredible, hilarious and sometimes heart wrenching experience. I like to kid myself that it’s all me, but really, they’re blazing their own trail. Sure I’ve made some genetic contributions and I hope that some of the things I try to teach them stick. But since they were born they have been finding their own way of thinking and doing things. And as far as I can tell, the growing child’s brain is a place of mystery, magnificence and quite often black magic.

What’s normal?

Like all parents (tell me I’m not the only one!) I often find myself thinking “blimey, is that normal?” which gets you thinking…What IS normal? What is actually going on at a genetic and cellular level in a child’s brain when they have an identified disorder, like autism? It’s become clear that there’s an awful lot that we don’t know or understand about autistic spectrum disorders. What causes them, what is happening in the brain and what we can do to help people with autism embrace their way of thinking and looking at the world.

The failed gene quest

Studies have tried to identify a single gene that might cause autism but have failed. A group of scientists in Sweden looked at the occurrence of mutations in the genes of 3,000 children with autism compared to 3,000 children without autism. They found similar mutations in both groups, but none that were only present in the autistic group, and no mutations that were very uncommon. Dr Joseph Buxbaum, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) explained that mutations are most likely to account for roughly 60% of the risk of having autism. But of those mutations about half are common mutations.

This study offers support for the idea that autism is caused by a collection of common mutations. If other complex conditions such as cancer give us any clues then it may be a bit like a lottery – and of all the possible mutations, you need a certain number, of a certain combination of mutations to be autistic.

We’re gonna need a bigger dataset

Many researchers are now trying to use the power of big data computing to find patterns in our genes that will help us to diagnose autism more effectively and earlier. Many of the genes that we associate with autism are linked to neuron development, a discovery which could help us to understand more about what’s physically and chemically happening in the brain. We’re also searching for biomarkers and we’re making progress! These biomarkers are proteins or chemicals that are like flashing beacons, illuminating a faulty metabolic pathway.

Mutations rock!

I try to celebrate the uniqueness of my children. Even, or especially when they’re merrily climbing up my very last nerve. It helps me to remember that on a genetic level at least, we all share some of the mutations that lead to neural diversity. Looking at the research, I’m confident we will be better able to diagnose autism in the very near future. And as the world begins to gain a better grasp of what neural diversity is, how many people it affects and the wonderful ways our brains work – the question is could we and should we look at medical treatment? If yes, what form would that treatment or ‘fix’ take?

We’ve come a long way in learning how to embrace the many talents the neural diverse community possess – yet I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface!

autism-awareness-month

P.S. All our Curiosity Boxes have been designed and curated with sensory learning in mind. Please do check them out!

autism-awareness-month

Create your own Icy Snow Globes

 

Make the most of the chill by doing a wonderful winter science activity that is full of sensory science!

You will need:

  • A teacup (or something waterproof that is dome shaped)
  • Water
  • Lovely things to put in it
  • A seriously chilly night

How to do it

  1. Fill the cup with cold tap water. Poke your finger into the water, how does it feel? You could measure and record the temperature if you have a thermometer.
  2. Find some small objects to put into the water, things like marbles, stones, leaves and flowers work well (although our lavender flowers wouldn’t sink, we still liked the effect). How do your objects feel before you put them in the water? Do they feel different after they have been in the water? Do they look different when they are in the water?
  3. Look for an uncovered, flat surface outside and place your water-filled cup on it, you will need to leave it there overnight. Why do you think the surface needs to be uncovered?
  4. Make a prediction: What do you think will happen to the water and your objects when you leave them out overnight? What changes do you think you will see in the morning?
  5. Rise and shine! Go and have a look at your cup then poke the water, has it changed? What has happened to the water? How does it feel now? Was your prediction correct? You could measure the temperature again and see how different it is!
  6. Caution: this next step will get a bit wet so make sure you do it on a wipeable surface, that is clear of anything that could be damaged by water.
  7. Take a flat plate and put it on top of your cup. Holding the cup and the plate together turn it over so that your cup is sitting face down on top of the plate. Gently lift the cup up, what do you see?  What has happened to the objects in your Icy Snow Globe?

What’s going on?

The temperature is regularly getting below freezing point at the moment and that means that water will freeze! It also means that its the perfect time for a winter science activity! You may have noticed ice on the ground or even had some snow! When the temperature gets below 0 degrees centigrade the molecules in water start to slow down and line up, creating a regular pattern that turns liquid water into a solid, you will know this as ice!  The ice will form from the outside in, where it is closest to the air. This is because the air is colder that the water in the cup. Because there is quite a lot of water in the cup, the bit right in the middle might not have gotten cold enough to freeze. Can you see any bubbles and liquid water trapped inside the icy dome?

Now that you know how to make an icy science snow globe, what else could you do? I think there are so many creative things you could try! Take a look at the little video I made of my icy snow globes with some gem stones in one and nothing in the other on our instagram page Are there other winter science activities using the weird and wonderful properties of water that you could try?

 

Style 3

Celebrate summer with some seaside science!

From Fossils to Fantastic Fluids

Ahhh summer holidays, the perfect time to get the bucket and spade out and head to the beach!

Do you like looking for treasures in rock pools? Splashing in the surf? Building sandcastles? Slurping up cooling ice cream? Or all of the above! Here are some top ideas for adding some science to your summer, and don’t worry if you aren’t heading to the beach, there are ideas for you to bring the seaside to your kitchen table! 

 

1: Find a fossil – beaches are the perfect place to look for fossils. With a bit of help you can see fossils in lots of other places too! Learn how and where to look with the help of the UK fossil network

 

2: Chill ouuuuuttttt with weird ice cream – There’s more than one way to make ice cream – some methods need liquid nitrogen! Our Seaside Science Jumbo Box includes a low tech, foolproof activity where you can make your own! (evidence below!)

make-your-own-ice-cream
If you’re feeling creative, you can also get novel with your flavours too! In fact, curious foodie, Heston Blumenthal had a go at making chicken curry ice cream!

We’ll stick to mint choc chip thanks HB

3: Get up close and SANDY – Sand is amazing stuff! With our DIYnamic Sand activity, you can make your own slithery sand and learn about how Isaac Newton can help us answer the question Why is my sand slithery? While we won’t give everything away here, it has a lot to do with Non-Newtonian Fluids, which crop up every day in life and explain why your ketchup can be so tricky to get out of the bottle!

Sticking with sand, you can take a look at Dr Greenberg’s microscopic photographs of sand from all over the world. This video shows you his 3D microscopic images in spectacular detail

4: Make UV Art – Summer is the perfect time to study the sun and sunlight, and one our UV Keyring activity explores photochromism i.e. things that change colour when exposed to UV light (specifically sunlight, although certain kinds of lamps can do this). Certain materials and chemicals react permanently to sunlight. Once unexpected example is beetroot! Beetroot is photosensitive and can be used to create solar powered art like in this video!

Why not have a go at home? We’d love to see your results!

5: Look for Strawberry Anemones – A common and fascinating creature in rock pools around the UK, strawberry anemones are bright red and shiny. Find out more about them with the Wildlife Trusts. Did you know that they also provide Rockpool Safaris!?

Want more? Order a Seaside Science Box on its own, or check out our Staycation Science Club bundle and subscription!

Sun, Moon, Light – MAGIC!

The Summer Solstice

Sunlight. Where would we be without it? It enables us to see (find out about exciting research in this area that our Curiosity Champion Tassos is doing!), plants to grow and controls our seasons. Quite simply, without it, we couldn’t even exist! It’s no wonder then, that so much of our way of life is shaped by the sun. 

Before science helped us to understand what the sun and moon were, and how they work, humans have been guessing at the role of these magical objects in the sky. Our calendar, our sleeping and waking, what we eat and even when we are most likely to have babies are all dictated by the sun.

The Summer Solstice is a centuries-old celebration of the longest day of the year, the day when the sun’s light reaches earth for longer than any other. With so much light around, and the odd eclipse here and there, it is also a great time of year to explore what light really is! 

Spotting the solar eclipse

A partial solar eclipse is where the moon passes between the earth and the sun. Done safely, It’s a stunning thing to see, and if you’re lucky, you can sometimes see the exact moment where the moon is right in front of the sun. This is called an annular eclipse and it looks like this:

annular-eclipse-marek-okon📷 : Marek Okon / Unsplash

There was a partial eclipse earlier in June. Don’t worry if you missed it (it was very cloudy in the UK on the day), we found a stunning slideshow courtesy of BBC Science Focus Magazine of some of the best views of it from around the world!

Invisibility – magic or science?

Making things invisible might seem like magic but a lot of the time it’s just a good ol’ optical illusion. Think about animals camouflaging themselves or those ‘Where’s Wally?’ puzzles? The idea is to trick the eye so you think you can’t see something. And you can try it at home! Here’s a video from our pals at one of my absolute favourite places ‘We the Curious‘ that shows you how!

More Light Science

Explore rainbows, how light travels – and how we can manipulate it to help us solve problems with our Light Box, now available for 4-6 year olds!

Playing with Puffins!

The outdoors is one of the best and easiest ways to explore science. The added bonus is that we know that getting connected to nature makes us feel good too! Renée recently spent a week on Skomer Island, a nature reserve off the west coast of Wales. It’s Puffin breeding season right now, a time she’s always wanted to see first-hand. She also wanted to get up close and personal with puffins and she wasn’t disappointed! Luckily for us, she’s put together a whole heap of resources as part of the Great Science Share for Schools which took place over May and June.

Puffins at Play a talk with Marine Birdlife expert, Annette Fayet

Renée and hosted a live event with Puffin scientist Annette Fayet and ran a Q&A session. Here’s a recording of the whole thing

Photos of the beautiful wildlife that Renee and her family encountered on Skomer

There’s all kind of creatures on Skomer.

  1. Puffins EVERYWHERE!
  2. Short-eared Owl
  3. Spoonbill
  4. St. George’s mushroom
  5. Slow worm
  6. Raven stealing a gull egg
  7. Seals
  8. Razorbills
  9. Guillemots
  10. Lots of different Gulls
  11. Buzzards

Take a look!

Watch Renee’s video diary 

Staying on a Skomer Island is a full-on back-to-basics experience! Renée kept a video diary of her time on the island so that you can see what life is like living off-grid on a nature reserve. You can access the whole series here starting with this episode with Renée waiting to get the boat across!

Read the Great Science Share Blog 

Renee has also written a blog of her experience for The Great Science Share for schools

If you want to get outside and explore the outdoors around you, then take a look at our special offers on Outdoor Curiosity Boxes

Interested in visiting Skomer?

Head over to the South & West Wales Wildlife Trust website for all the details.

Photo credits to Kerry Fisher Instagram: @last_of_the_late_developers

The story of Vaisakhi and why everything is connected

For the Sikh and Hindu community, Vaisakha – the second month of the lunar calendar broadly matches up with April and Vaisakhi (Vah-Sah-key) is the first day of this celebration. Vaisakhi, which falls on the 13th or 14th of April, is when many Sikhs and Hindus will celebrate the beginning of spring, the spring harvest and the role of nature in sustaining the world.

Vaisakhi is a profoundly important day for the 30million Sikhs across the world. It not only celebrates nature, it also marks the creation of the Khalsa in cementing the identity and attributes of the Sikhs! If you don’t know the story – here’s a quick intro.

The formation of the Khalsa

In 1699, 100,000s of people gathered at the Vaisakhi harvest festival where the 10th Sikh Guru called out to those who would stand for what is right. 5 souls stood up Deya (meaning compassion) Singh, Dharam (meaning knowledge) Singh, Himmat (meaning courage) Singh, Mokham (meaning resilience) Singh and Sahib (meaning mastery) Singh and they formed the Khalsa. The Khalsa were the first initiated Sikhs.

They came from different backgrounds and locations and so represented a central tenet of Sikhism that is universality of the human race. It has the concept of “sarbat da bhala” which means “may good come to all.”

Everyone’s talking about Universality

The idea of oneness wasn’t born on that day in 1699. Sikh scriptures date much further back, and discussions of the universe often appear. Sikh scholars had already begun thinking that there was no end to the vastness of the universe, with Guru Nanak (1469-1539) writing “There are earths, beyond earths, beyond earths” and “There are skies above skies and earths below earths.”

This was at a time when most scientists thought the whole universe revolved around the earth (talk about selfish!). At about the same time as Guru Nanak was challenging these ideas, another very famous thinker named Copernicus (1473-1543) also rejected the theory that everything revolved around the earth. Jump forward a few hundred years and we now know the universe is enormous, so much so that scientists in the US have found a light signal from over 15 million light years away!

📷 Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

 

Sikhs also see that everything is connected, so we as humans are all connected to one another and with our surroundings. In this way, god is in everything and can be seen through our relationship with nature. Guru Nanak wrote of god as the universal vibration in that “you are the lake and the swan, you are the lotus flower and the water lily”. We now recognise that you, me, the lake and the lotus flower all come from atoms and particles – though scientists may not describe this so poetically!

So as we head into spring, and the “April showers that bring May flowers”, look up at the skies, the stars (and even those distant stars beyond stars) and marvel at how you are as connected to them as you are to the people and nature that surrounds you!

the-golden-temple-at-night

📷 Mohd Aram on Unsplash

A huge shout-out and thanks to AI/Data Tech expert and dad of three curious girls, Indi Singh for writing this piece and enlightening us all!
A happy Vaisakhi to everyone celebrating! If you want to find out more about Vaisakhi check out this fantastic BBC Bitesize article.
the-golden-temple-at-night

Autism – normal doesn’t matter and never did.

Watching my children grow and develop their own personalities has been an incredible, hilarious and sometimes heart wrenching experience. I like to kid myself that it’s all me, but really, they’re blazing their own trail. Sure I’ve made some genetic contributions and I hope that some of the things I try to teach them stick. But since they were born they have been finding their own way of thinking and doing things. And as far as I can tell, the growing child’s brain is a place of mystery, magnificence and quite often black magic.

What’s normal?

Like all parents (tell me I’m not the only one!) I often find myself thinking “blimey, is that normal?” which gets you thinking…What IS normal? What is actually going on at a genetic and cellular level in a child’s brain when they have an identified disorder, like autism? It’s become clear that there’s an awful lot that we don’t know or understand about autistic spectrum disorders. What causes them, what is happening in the brain and what we can do to help people with autism embrace their way of thinking and looking at the world.

The failed gene quest

Studies have tried to identify a single gene that might cause autism but have failed. A group of scientists in Sweden looked at the occurrence of mutations in the genes of 3,000 children with autism compared to 3,000 children without autism. They found similar mutations in both groups, but none that were only present in the autistic group, and no mutations that were very uncommon. Dr Joseph Buxbaum, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) explained that mutations are most likely to account for roughly 60% of the risk of having autism. But of those mutations about half are common mutations.

This study offers support for the idea that autism is caused by a collection of common mutations. If other complex conditions such as cancer give us any clues then it may be a bit like a lottery – and of all the possible mutations, you need a certain number, of a certain combination of mutations to be autistic.

We’re gonna need a bigger dataset

Many researchers are now trying to use the power of big data computing to find patterns in our genes that will help us to diagnose autism more effectively and earlier. Many of the genes that we associate with autism are linked to neuron development, a discovery which could help us to understand more about what’s physically and chemically happening in the brain. We’re also searching for biomarkers and we’re making progress! These biomarkers are proteins or chemicals that are like flashing beacons, illuminating a faulty metabolic pathway.

Mutations rock!

I try to celebrate the uniqueness of my children. Even, or especially when they’re merrily climbing up my very last nerve. It helps me to remember that on a genetic level at least, we all share some of the mutations that lead to neural diversity. Looking at the research, I’m confident we will be better able to diagnose autism in the very near future. And as the world begins to gain a better grasp of what neural diversity is, how many people it affects and the wonderful ways our brains work – the question is could we and should we look at medical treatment? If yes, what form would that treatment or ‘fix’ take?

We’ve come a long way in learning how to embrace the many talents the neural diverse community possess – yet I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface!

autism-awareness-month

P.S. All our Curiosity Boxes have been designed and curated with sensory learning in mind. Please do check them out!

autism-awareness-month

Create your own Icy Snow Globes

 

Make the most of the chill by doing a wonderful winter science activity that is full of sensory science!

You will need:

  • A teacup (or something waterproof that is dome shaped)
  • Water
  • Lovely things to put in it
  • A seriously chilly night

How to do it

  1. Fill the cup with cold tap water. Poke your finger into the water, how does it feel? You could measure and record the temperature if you have a thermometer.
  2. Find some small objects to put into the water, things like marbles, stones, leaves and flowers work well (although our lavender flowers wouldn’t sink, we still liked the effect). How do your objects feel before you put them in the water? Do they feel different after they have been in the water? Do they look different when they are in the water?
  3. Look for an uncovered, flat surface outside and place your water-filled cup on it, you will need to leave it there overnight. Why do you think the surface needs to be uncovered?
  4. Make a prediction: What do you think will happen to the water and your objects when you leave them out overnight? What changes do you think you will see in the morning?
  5. Rise and shine! Go and have a look at your cup then poke the water, has it changed? What has happened to the water? How does it feel now? Was your prediction correct? You could measure the temperature again and see how different it is!
  6. Caution: this next step will get a bit wet so make sure you do it on a wipeable surface, that is clear of anything that could be damaged by water.
  7. Take a flat plate and put it on top of your cup. Holding the cup and the plate together turn it over so that your cup is sitting face down on top of the plate. Gently lift the cup up, what do you see?  What has happened to the objects in your Icy Snow Globe?

What’s going on?

The temperature is regularly getting below freezing point at the moment and that means that water will freeze! It also means that its the perfect time for a winter science activity! You may have noticed ice on the ground or even had some snow! When the temperature gets below 0 degrees centigrade the molecules in water start to slow down and line up, creating a regular pattern that turns liquid water into a solid, you will know this as ice!  The ice will form from the outside in, where it is closest to the air. This is because the air is colder that the water in the cup. Because there is quite a lot of water in the cup, the bit right in the middle might not have gotten cold enough to freeze. Can you see any bubbles and liquid water trapped inside the icy dome?

Now that you know how to make an icy science snow globe, what else could you do? I think there are so many creative things you could try! Take a look at the little video I made of my icy snow globes with some gem stones in one and nothing in the other on our instagram page Are there other winter science activities using the weird and wonderful properties of water that you could try?

 

Style 4

Celebrate summer with some seaside science!

From Fossils to Fantastic Fluids

Ahhh summer holidays, the perfect time to get the bucket and spade out and head to the beach!

Do you like looking for treasures in rock pools? Splashing in the surf? Building sandcastles? Slurping up cooling ice cream? Or all of the above! Here are some top ideas for adding some science to your summer, and don’t worry if you aren’t heading to the beach, there are ideas for you to bring the seaside to your kitchen table! 

 

1: Find a fossil – beaches are the perfect place to look for fossils. With a bit of help you can see fossils in lots of other places too! Learn how and where to look with the help of the UK fossil network

 

2: Chill ouuuuuttttt with weird ice cream – There’s more than one way to make ice cream – some methods need liquid nitrogen! Our Seaside Science Jumbo Box includes a low tech, foolproof activity where you can make your own! (evidence below!)

make-your-own-ice-cream
If you’re feeling creative, you can also get novel with your flavours too! In fact, curious foodie, Heston Blumenthal had a go at making chicken curry ice cream!

We’ll stick to mint choc chip thanks HB

3: Get up close and SANDY – Sand is amazing stuff! With our DIYnamic Sand activity, you can make your own slithery sand and learn about how Isaac Newton can help us answer the question Why is my sand slithery? While we won’t give everything away here, it has a lot to do with Non-Newtonian Fluids, which crop up every day in life and explain why your ketchup can be so tricky to get out of the bottle!

Sticking with sand, you can take a look at Dr Greenberg’s microscopic photographs of sand from all over the world. This video shows you his 3D microscopic images in spectacular detail

4: Make UV Art – Summer is the perfect time to study the sun and sunlight, and one our UV Keyring activity explores photochromism i.e. things that change colour when exposed to UV light (specifically sunlight, although certain kinds of lamps can do this). Certain materials and chemicals react permanently to sunlight. Once unexpected example is beetroot! Beetroot is photosensitive and can be used to create solar powered art like in this video!

Why not have a go at home? We’d love to see your results!

5: Look for Strawberry Anemones – A common and fascinating creature in rock pools around the UK, strawberry anemones are bright red and shiny. Find out more about them with the Wildlife Trusts. Did you know that they also provide Rockpool Safaris!?

Want more? Order a Seaside Science Box on its own, or check out our Staycation Science Club bundle and subscription!

Sun, Moon, Light – MAGIC!

The Summer Solstice

Sunlight. Where would we be without it? It enables us to see (find out about exciting research in this area that our Curiosity Champion Tassos is doing!), plants to grow and controls our seasons. Quite simply, without it, we couldn’t even exist! It’s no wonder then, that so much of our way of life is shaped by the sun. 

Before science helped us to understand what the sun and moon were, and how they work, humans have been guessing at the role of these magical objects in the sky. Our calendar, our sleeping and waking, what we eat and even when we are most likely to have babies are all dictated by the sun.

The Summer Solstice is a centuries-old celebration of the longest day of the year, the day when the sun’s light reaches earth for longer than any other. With so much light around, and the odd eclipse here and there, it is also a great time of year to explore what light really is! 

Spotting the solar eclipse

A partial solar eclipse is where the moon passes between the earth and the sun. Done safely, It’s a stunning thing to see, and if you’re lucky, you can sometimes see the exact moment where the moon is right in front of the sun. This is called an annular eclipse and it looks like this:

annular-eclipse-marek-okon📷 : Marek Okon / Unsplash

There was a partial eclipse earlier in June. Don’t worry if you missed it (it was very cloudy in the UK on the day), we found a stunning slideshow courtesy of BBC Science Focus Magazine of some of the best views of it from around the world!

Invisibility – magic or science?

Making things invisible might seem like magic but a lot of the time it’s just a good ol’ optical illusion. Think about animals camouflaging themselves or those ‘Where’s Wally?’ puzzles? The idea is to trick the eye so you think you can’t see something. And you can try it at home! Here’s a video from our pals at one of my absolute favourite places ‘We the Curious‘ that shows you how!

More Light Science

Explore rainbows, how light travels – and how we can manipulate it to help us solve problems with our Light Box, now available for 4-6 year olds!

Playing with Puffins!

The outdoors is one of the best and easiest ways to explore science. The added bonus is that we know that getting connected to nature makes us feel good too! Renée recently spent a week on Skomer Island, a nature reserve off the west coast of Wales. It’s Puffin breeding season right now, a time she’s always wanted to see first-hand. She also wanted to get up close and personal with puffins and she wasn’t disappointed! Luckily for us, she’s put together a whole heap of resources as part of the Great Science Share for Schools which took place over May and June.

Puffins at Play a talk with Marine Birdlife expert, Annette Fayet

Renée and hosted a live event with Puffin scientist Annette Fayet and ran a Q&A session. Here’s a recording of the whole thing

Photos of the beautiful wildlife that Renee and her family encountered on Skomer

There’s all kind of creatures on Skomer.

  1. Puffins EVERYWHERE!
  2. Short-eared Owl
  3. Spoonbill
  4. St. George’s mushroom
  5. Slow worm
  6. Raven stealing a gull egg
  7. Seals
  8. Razorbills
  9. Guillemots
  10. Lots of different Gulls
  11. Buzzards

Take a look!

Watch Renee’s video diary 

Staying on a Skomer Island is a full-on back-to-basics experience! Renée kept a video diary of her time on the island so that you can see what life is like living off-grid on a nature reserve. You can access the whole series here starting with this episode with Renée waiting to get the boat across!

Read the Great Science Share Blog 

Renee has also written a blog of her experience for The Great Science Share for schools

If you want to get outside and explore the outdoors around you, then take a look at our special offers on Outdoor Curiosity Boxes

Interested in visiting Skomer?

Head over to the South & West Wales Wildlife Trust website for all the details.

Photo credits to Kerry Fisher Instagram: @last_of_the_late_developers

the-golden-temple-at-night

The story of Vaisakhi and why everything is connected

For the Sikh and Hindu community, Vaisakha – the second month of the lunar calendar broadly matches up with April and Vaisakhi (Vah-Sah-key) is the first day of this celebration. Vaisakhi, which falls on the 13th or 14th of April, is when many Sikhs and Hindus will celebrate the beginning of spring, the spring harvest and the role of nature in sustaining the world.

Vaisakhi is a profoundly important day for the 30million Sikhs across the world. It not only celebrates nature, it also marks the creation of the Khalsa in cementing the identity and attributes of the Sikhs! If you don’t know the story – here’s a quick intro.

The formation of the Khalsa

In 1699, 100,000s of people gathered at the Vaisakhi harvest festival where the 10th Sikh Guru called out to those who would stand for what is right. 5 souls stood up Deya (meaning compassion) Singh, Dharam (meaning knowledge) Singh, Himmat (meaning courage) Singh, Mokham (meaning resilience) Singh and Sahib (meaning mastery) Singh and they formed the Khalsa. The Khalsa were the first initiated Sikhs.

They came from different backgrounds and locations and so represented a central tenet of Sikhism that is universality of the human race. It has the concept of “sarbat da bhala” which means “may good come to all.”

Everyone’s talking about Universality

The idea of oneness wasn’t born on that day in 1699. Sikh scriptures date much further back, and discussions of the universe often appear. Sikh scholars had already begun thinking that there was no end to the vastness of the universe, with Guru Nanak (1469-1539) writing “There are earths, beyond earths, beyond earths” and “There are skies above skies and earths below earths.”

This was at a time when most scientists thought the whole universe revolved around the earth (talk about selfish!). At about the same time as Guru Nanak was challenging these ideas, another very famous thinker named Copernicus (1473-1543) also rejected the theory that everything revolved around the earth. Jump forward a few hundred years and we now know the universe is enormous, so much so that scientists in the US have found a light signal from over 15 million light years away!

📷 Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

 

Sikhs also see that everything is connected, so we as humans are all connected to one another and with our surroundings. In this way, god is in everything and can be seen through our relationship with nature. Guru Nanak wrote of god as the universal vibration in that “you are the lake and the swan, you are the lotus flower and the water lily”. We now recognise that you, me, the lake and the lotus flower all come from atoms and particles – though scientists may not describe this so poetically!

So as we head into spring, and the “April showers that bring May flowers”, look up at the skies, the stars (and even those distant stars beyond stars) and marvel at how you are as connected to them as you are to the people and nature that surrounds you!

the-golden-temple-at-night

📷 Mohd Aram on Unsplash

A huge shout-out and thanks to AI/Data Tech expert and dad of three curious girls, Indi Singh for writing this piece and enlightening us all!
A happy Vaisakhi to everyone celebrating! If you want to find out more about Vaisakhi check out this fantastic BBC Bitesize article.
autism-awareness-month

Autism – normal doesn’t matter and never did.

Watching my children grow and develop their own personalities has been an incredible, hilarious and sometimes heart wrenching experience. I like to kid myself that it’s all me, but really, they’re blazing their own trail. Sure I’ve made some genetic contributions and I hope that some of the things I try to teach them stick. But since they were born they have been finding their own way of thinking and doing things. And as far as I can tell, the growing child’s brain is a place of mystery, magnificence and quite often black magic.

What’s normal?

Like all parents (tell me I’m not the only one!) I often find myself thinking “blimey, is that normal?” which gets you thinking…What IS normal? What is actually going on at a genetic and cellular level in a child’s brain when they have an identified disorder, like autism? It’s become clear that there’s an awful lot that we don’t know or understand about autistic spectrum disorders. What causes them, what is happening in the brain and what we can do to help people with autism embrace their way of thinking and looking at the world.

The failed gene quest

Studies have tried to identify a single gene that might cause autism but have failed. A group of scientists in Sweden looked at the occurrence of mutations in the genes of 3,000 children with autism compared to 3,000 children without autism. They found similar mutations in both groups, but none that were only present in the autistic group, and no mutations that were very uncommon. Dr Joseph Buxbaum, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) explained that mutations are most likely to account for roughly 60% of the risk of having autism. But of those mutations about half are common mutations.

This study offers support for the idea that autism is caused by a collection of common mutations. If other complex conditions such as cancer give us any clues then it may be a bit like a lottery – and of all the possible mutations, you need a certain number, of a certain combination of mutations to be autistic.

We’re gonna need a bigger dataset

Many researchers are now trying to use the power of big data computing to find patterns in our genes that will help us to diagnose autism more effectively and earlier. Many of the genes that we associate with autism are linked to neuron development, a discovery which could help us to understand more about what’s physically and chemically happening in the brain. We’re also searching for biomarkers and we’re making progress! These biomarkers are proteins or chemicals that are like flashing beacons, illuminating a faulty metabolic pathway.

Mutations rock!

I try to celebrate the uniqueness of my children. Even, or especially when they’re merrily climbing up my very last nerve. It helps me to remember that on a genetic level at least, we all share some of the mutations that lead to neural diversity. Looking at the research, I’m confident we will be better able to diagnose autism in the very near future. And as the world begins to gain a better grasp of what neural diversity is, how many people it affects and the wonderful ways our brains work – the question is could we and should we look at medical treatment? If yes, what form would that treatment or ‘fix’ take?

We’ve come a long way in learning how to embrace the many talents the neural diverse community possess – yet I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface!

autism-awareness-month

P.S. All our Curiosity Boxes have been designed and curated with sensory learning in mind. Please do check them out!

Create your own Icy Snow Globes

 

Make the most of the chill by doing a wonderful winter science activity that is full of sensory science!

You will need:

  • A teacup (or something waterproof that is dome shaped)
  • Water
  • Lovely things to put in it
  • A seriously chilly night

How to do it

  1. Fill the cup with cold tap water. Poke your finger into the water, how does it feel? You could measure and record the temperature if you have a thermometer.
  2. Find some small objects to put into the water, things like marbles, stones, leaves and flowers work well (although our lavender flowers wouldn’t sink, we still liked the effect). How do your objects feel before you put them in the water? Do they feel different after they have been in the water? Do they look different when they are in the water?
  3. Look for an uncovered, flat surface outside and place your water-filled cup on it, you will need to leave it there overnight. Why do you think the surface needs to be uncovered?
  4. Make a prediction: What do you think will happen to the water and your objects when you leave them out overnight? What changes do you think you will see in the morning?
  5. Rise and shine! Go and have a look at your cup then poke the water, has it changed? What has happened to the water? How does it feel now? Was your prediction correct? You could measure the temperature again and see how different it is!
  6. Caution: this next step will get a bit wet so make sure you do it on a wipeable surface, that is clear of anything that could be damaged by water.
  7. Take a flat plate and put it on top of your cup. Holding the cup and the plate together turn it over so that your cup is sitting face down on top of the plate. Gently lift the cup up, what do you see?  What has happened to the objects in your Icy Snow Globe?

What’s going on?

The temperature is regularly getting below freezing point at the moment and that means that water will freeze! It also means that its the perfect time for a winter science activity! You may have noticed ice on the ground or even had some snow! When the temperature gets below 0 degrees centigrade the molecules in water start to slow down and line up, creating a regular pattern that turns liquid water into a solid, you will know this as ice!  The ice will form from the outside in, where it is closest to the air. This is because the air is colder that the water in the cup. Because there is quite a lot of water in the cup, the bit right in the middle might not have gotten cold enough to freeze. Can you see any bubbles and liquid water trapped inside the icy dome?

Now that you know how to make an icy science snow globe, what else could you do? I think there are so many creative things you could try! Take a look at the little video I made of my icy snow globes with some gem stones in one and nothing in the other on our instagram page Are there other winter science activities using the weird and wonderful properties of water that you could try?

 

Style 5

Celebrate summer with some seaside science!

From Fossils to Fantastic Fluids

Ahhh summer holidays, the perfect time to get the bucket and spade out and head to the beach!

Do you like looking for treasures in rock pools? Splashing in the surf? Building sandcastles? Slurping up cooling ice cream? Or all of the above! Here are some top ideas for adding some science to your summer, and don’t worry if you aren’t heading to the beach, there are ideas for you to bring the seaside to your kitchen table! 

 

1: Find a fossil – beaches are the perfect place to look for fossils. With a bit of help you can see fossils in lots of other places too! Learn how and where to look with the help of the UK fossil network

 

2: Chill ouuuuuttttt with weird ice cream – There’s more than one way to make ice cream – some methods need liquid nitrogen! Our Seaside Science Jumbo Box includes a low tech, foolproof activity where you can make your own! (evidence below!)

make-your-own-ice-cream
If you’re feeling creative, you can also get novel with your flavours too! In fact, curious foodie, Heston Blumenthal had a go at making chicken curry ice cream!

We’ll stick to mint choc chip thanks HB

3: Get up close and SANDY – Sand is amazing stuff! With our DIYnamic Sand activity, you can make your own slithery sand and learn about how Isaac Newton can help us answer the question Why is my sand slithery? While we won’t give everything away here, it has a lot to do with Non-Newtonian Fluids, which crop up every day in life and explain why your ketchup can be so tricky to get out of the bottle!

Sticking with sand, you can take a look at Dr Greenberg’s microscopic photographs of sand from all over the world. This video shows you his 3D microscopic images in spectacular detail

4: Make UV Art – Summer is the perfect time to study the sun and sunlight, and one our UV Keyring activity explores photochromism i.e. things that change colour when exposed to UV light (specifically sunlight, although certain kinds of lamps can do this). Certain materials and chemicals react permanently to sunlight. Once unexpected example is beetroot! Beetroot is photosensitive and can be used to create solar powered art like in this video!

Why not have a go at home? We’d love to see your results!

5: Look for Strawberry Anemones – A common and fascinating creature in rock pools around the UK, strawberry anemones are bright red and shiny. Find out more about them with the Wildlife Trusts. Did you know that they also provide Rockpool Safaris!?

Want more? Order a Seaside Science Box on its own, or check out our Staycation Science Club bundle and subscription!

Sun, Moon, Light – MAGIC!

The Summer Solstice

Sunlight. Where would we be without it? It enables us to see (find out about exciting research in this area that our Curiosity Champion Tassos is doing!), plants to grow and controls our seasons. Quite simply, without it, we couldn’t even exist! It’s no wonder then, that so much of our way of life is shaped by the sun. 

Before science helped us to understand what the sun and moon were, and how they work, humans have been guessing at the role of these magical objects in the sky. Our calendar, our sleeping and waking, what we eat and even when we are most likely to have babies are all dictated by the sun.

The Summer Solstice is a centuries-old celebration of the longest day of the year, the day when the sun’s light reaches earth for longer than any other. With so much light around, and the odd eclipse here and there, it is also a great time of year to explore what light really is! 

Spotting the solar eclipse

A partial solar eclipse is where the moon passes between the earth and the sun. Done safely, It’s a stunning thing to see, and if you’re lucky, you can sometimes see the exact moment where the moon is right in front of the sun. This is called an annular eclipse and it looks like this:

annular-eclipse-marek-okon📷 : Marek Okon / Unsplash

There was a partial eclipse earlier in June. Don’t worry if you missed it (it was very cloudy in the UK on the day), we found a stunning slideshow courtesy of BBC Science Focus Magazine of some of the best views of it from around the world!

Invisibility – magic or science?

Making things invisible might seem like magic but a lot of the time it’s just a good ol’ optical illusion. Think about animals camouflaging themselves or those ‘Where’s Wally?’ puzzles? The idea is to trick the eye so you think you can’t see something. And you can try it at home! Here’s a video from our pals at one of my absolute favourite places ‘We the Curious‘ that shows you how!

More Light Science

Explore rainbows, how light travels – and how we can manipulate it to help us solve problems with our Light Box, now available for 4-6 year olds!

Playing with Puffins!

The outdoors is one of the best and easiest ways to explore science. The added bonus is that we know that getting connected to nature makes us feel good too! Renée recently spent a week on Skomer Island, a nature reserve off the west coast of Wales. It’s Puffin breeding season right now, a time she’s always wanted to see first-hand. She also wanted to get up close and personal with puffins and she wasn’t disappointed! Luckily for us, she’s put together a whole heap of resources as part of the Great Science Share for Schools which took place over May and June.

Puffins at Play a talk with Marine Birdlife expert, Annette Fayet

Renée and hosted a live event with Puffin scientist Annette Fayet and ran a Q&A session. Here’s a recording of the whole thing

Photos of the beautiful wildlife that Renee and her family encountered on Skomer

There’s all kind of creatures on Skomer.

  1. Puffins EVERYWHERE!
  2. Short-eared Owl
  3. Spoonbill
  4. St. George’s mushroom
  5. Slow worm
  6. Raven stealing a gull egg
  7. Seals
  8. Razorbills
  9. Guillemots
  10. Lots of different Gulls
  11. Buzzards

Take a look!

Watch Renee’s video diary 

Staying on a Skomer Island is a full-on back-to-basics experience! Renée kept a video diary of her time on the island so that you can see what life is like living off-grid on a nature reserve. You can access the whole series here starting with this episode with Renée waiting to get the boat across!

Read the Great Science Share Blog 

Renee has also written a blog of her experience for The Great Science Share for schools

If you want to get outside and explore the outdoors around you, then take a look at our special offers on Outdoor Curiosity Boxes

Interested in visiting Skomer?

Head over to the South & West Wales Wildlife Trust website for all the details.

Photo credits to Kerry Fisher Instagram: @last_of_the_late_developers

The story of Vaisakhi and why everything is connected

For the Sikh and Hindu community, Vaisakha – the second month of the lunar calendar broadly matches up with April and Vaisakhi (Vah-Sah-key) is the first day of this celebration. Vaisakhi, which falls on the 13th or 14th of April, is when many Sikhs and Hindus will celebrate the beginning of spring, the spring harvest and the role of nature in sustaining the world.

Vaisakhi is a profoundly important day for the 30million Sikhs across the world. It not only celebrates nature, it also marks the creation of the Khalsa in cementing the identity and attributes of the Sikhs! If you don’t know the story – here’s a quick intro.

The formation of the Khalsa

In 1699, 100,000s of people gathered at the Vaisakhi harvest festival where the 10th Sikh Guru called out to those who would stand for what is right. 5 souls stood up Deya (meaning compassion) Singh, Dharam (meaning knowledge) Singh, Himmat (meaning courage) Singh, Mokham (meaning resilience) Singh and Sahib (meaning mastery) Singh and they formed the Khalsa. The Khalsa were the first initiated Sikhs.

They came from different backgrounds and locations and so represented a central tenet of Sikhism that is universality of the human race. It has the concept of “sarbat da bhala” which means “may good come to all.”

Everyone’s talking about Universality

The idea of oneness wasn’t born on that day in 1699. Sikh scriptures date much further back, and discussions of the universe often appear. Sikh scholars had already begun thinking that there was no end to the vastness of the universe, with Guru Nanak (1469-1539) writing “There are earths, beyond earths, beyond earths” and “There are skies above skies and earths below earths.”

This was at a time when most scientists thought the whole universe revolved around the earth (talk about selfish!). At about the same time as Guru Nanak was challenging these ideas, another very famous thinker named Copernicus (1473-1543) also rejected the theory that everything revolved around the earth. Jump forward a few hundred years and we now know the universe is enormous, so much so that scientists in the US have found a light signal from over 15 million light years away!

📷 Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

 

Sikhs also see that everything is connected, so we as humans are all connected to one another and with our surroundings. In this way, god is in everything and can be seen through our relationship with nature. Guru Nanak wrote of god as the universal vibration in that “you are the lake and the swan, you are the lotus flower and the water lily”. We now recognise that you, me, the lake and the lotus flower all come from atoms and particles – though scientists may not describe this so poetically!

So as we head into spring, and the “April showers that bring May flowers”, look up at the skies, the stars (and even those distant stars beyond stars) and marvel at how you are as connected to them as you are to the people and nature that surrounds you!

the-golden-temple-at-night

📷 Mohd Aram on Unsplash

A huge shout-out and thanks to AI/Data Tech expert and dad of three curious girls, Indi Singh for writing this piece and enlightening us all!
A happy Vaisakhi to everyone celebrating! If you want to find out more about Vaisakhi check out this fantastic BBC Bitesize article.
the-golden-temple-at-night

Autism – normal doesn’t matter and never did.

Watching my children grow and develop their own personalities has been an incredible, hilarious and sometimes heart wrenching experience. I like to kid myself that it’s all me, but really, they’re blazing their own trail. Sure I’ve made some genetic contributions and I hope that some of the things I try to teach them stick. But since they were born they have been finding their own way of thinking and doing things. And as far as I can tell, the growing child’s brain is a place of mystery, magnificence and quite often black magic.

What’s normal?

Like all parents (tell me I’m not the only one!) I often find myself thinking “blimey, is that normal?” which gets you thinking…What IS normal? What is actually going on at a genetic and cellular level in a child’s brain when they have an identified disorder, like autism? It’s become clear that there’s an awful lot that we don’t know or understand about autistic spectrum disorders. What causes them, what is happening in the brain and what we can do to help people with autism embrace their way of thinking and looking at the world.

The failed gene quest

Studies have tried to identify a single gene that might cause autism but have failed. A group of scientists in Sweden looked at the occurrence of mutations in the genes of 3,000 children with autism compared to 3,000 children without autism. They found similar mutations in both groups, but none that were only present in the autistic group, and no mutations that were very uncommon. Dr Joseph Buxbaum, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) explained that mutations are most likely to account for roughly 60% of the risk of having autism. But of those mutations about half are common mutations.

This study offers support for the idea that autism is caused by a collection of common mutations. If other complex conditions such as cancer give us any clues then it may be a bit like a lottery – and of all the possible mutations, you need a certain number, of a certain combination of mutations to be autistic.

We’re gonna need a bigger dataset

Many researchers are now trying to use the power of big data computing to find patterns in our genes that will help us to diagnose autism more effectively and earlier. Many of the genes that we associate with autism are linked to neuron development, a discovery which could help us to understand more about what’s physically and chemically happening in the brain. We’re also searching for biomarkers and we’re making progress! These biomarkers are proteins or chemicals that are like flashing beacons, illuminating a faulty metabolic pathway.

Mutations rock!

I try to celebrate the uniqueness of my children. Even, or especially when they’re merrily climbing up my very last nerve. It helps me to remember that on a genetic level at least, we all share some of the mutations that lead to neural diversity. Looking at the research, I’m confident we will be better able to diagnose autism in the very near future. And as the world begins to gain a better grasp of what neural diversity is, how many people it affects and the wonderful ways our brains work – the question is could we and should we look at medical treatment? If yes, what form would that treatment or ‘fix’ take?

We’ve come a long way in learning how to embrace the many talents the neural diverse community possess – yet I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface!

autism-awareness-month

P.S. All our Curiosity Boxes have been designed and curated with sensory learning in mind. Please do check them out!

autism-awareness-month

Create your own Icy Snow Globes

 

Make the most of the chill by doing a wonderful winter science activity that is full of sensory science!

You will need:

  • A teacup (or something waterproof that is dome shaped)
  • Water
  • Lovely things to put in it
  • A seriously chilly night

How to do it

  1. Fill the cup with cold tap water. Poke your finger into the water, how does it feel? You could measure and record the temperature if you have a thermometer.
  2. Find some small objects to put into the water, things like marbles, stones, leaves and flowers work well (although our lavender flowers wouldn’t sink, we still liked the effect). How do your objects feel before you put them in the water? Do they feel different after they have been in the water? Do they look different when they are in the water?
  3. Look for an uncovered, flat surface outside and place your water-filled cup on it, you will need to leave it there overnight. Why do you think the surface needs to be uncovered?
  4. Make a prediction: What do you think will happen to the water and your objects when you leave them out overnight? What changes do you think you will see in the morning?
  5. Rise and shine! Go and have a look at your cup then poke the water, has it changed? What has happened to the water? How does it feel now? Was your prediction correct? You could measure the temperature again and see how different it is!
  6. Caution: this next step will get a bit wet so make sure you do it on a wipeable surface, that is clear of anything that could be damaged by water.
  7. Take a flat plate and put it on top of your cup. Holding the cup and the plate together turn it over so that your cup is sitting face down on top of the plate. Gently lift the cup up, what do you see?  What has happened to the objects in your Icy Snow Globe?

What’s going on?

The temperature is regularly getting below freezing point at the moment and that means that water will freeze! It also means that its the perfect time for a winter science activity! You may have noticed ice on the ground or even had some snow! When the temperature gets below 0 degrees centigrade the molecules in water start to slow down and line up, creating a regular pattern that turns liquid water into a solid, you will know this as ice!  The ice will form from the outside in, where it is closest to the air. This is because the air is colder that the water in the cup. Because there is quite a lot of water in the cup, the bit right in the middle might not have gotten cold enough to freeze. Can you see any bubbles and liquid water trapped inside the icy dome?

Now that you know how to make an icy science snow globe, what else could you do? I think there are so many creative things you could try! Take a look at the little video I made of my icy snow globes with some gem stones in one and nothing in the other on our instagram page Are there other winter science activities using the weird and wonderful properties of water that you could try?

 

Style 6

Celebrate summer with some seaside science!

From Fossils to Fantastic Fluids

Ahhh summer holidays, the perfect time to get the bucket and spade out and head to the beach!

Do you like looking for treasures in rock pools? Splashing in the surf? Building sandcastles? Slurping up cooling ice cream? Or all of the above! Here are some top ideas for adding some science to your summer, and don’t worry if you aren’t heading to the beach, there are ideas for you to bring the seaside to your kitchen table! 

 

1: Find a fossil – beaches are the perfect place to look for fossils. With a bit of help you can see fossils in lots of other places too! Learn how and where to look with the help of the UK fossil network

 

2: Chill ouuuuuttttt with weird ice cream – There’s more than one way to make ice cream – some methods need liquid nitrogen! Our Seaside Science Jumbo Box includes a low tech, foolproof activity where you can make your own! (evidence below!)

make-your-own-ice-cream
If you’re feeling creative, you can also get novel with your flavours too! In fact, curious foodie, Heston Blumenthal had a go at making chicken curry ice cream!

We’ll stick to mint choc chip thanks HB

3: Get up close and SANDY – Sand is amazing stuff! With our DIYnamic Sand activity, you can make your own slithery sand and learn about how Isaac Newton can help us answer the question Why is my sand slithery? While we won’t give everything away here, it has a lot to do with Non-Newtonian Fluids, which crop up every day in life and explain why your ketchup can be so tricky to get out of the bottle!

Sticking with sand, you can take a look at Dr Greenberg’s microscopic photographs of sand from all over the world. This video shows you his 3D microscopic images in spectacular detail

4: Make UV Art – Summer is the perfect time to study the sun and sunlight, and one our UV Keyring activity explores photochromism i.e. things that change colour when exposed to UV light (specifically sunlight, although certain kinds of lamps can do this). Certain materials and chemicals react permanently to sunlight. Once unexpected example is beetroot! Beetroot is photosensitive and can be used to create solar powered art like in this video!

Why not have a go at home? We’d love to see your results!

5: Look for Strawberry Anemones – A common and fascinating creature in rock pools around the UK, strawberry anemones are bright red and shiny. Find out more about them with the Wildlife Trusts. Did you know that they also provide Rockpool Safaris!?

Want more? Order a Seaside Science Box on its own, or check out our Staycation Science Club bundle and subscription!

Sun, Moon, Light – MAGIC!

The Summer Solstice

Sunlight. Where would we be without it? It enables us to see (find out about exciting research in this area that our Curiosity Champion Tassos is doing!), plants to grow and controls our seasons. Quite simply, without it, we couldn’t even exist! It’s no wonder then, that so much of our way of life is shaped by the sun. 

Before science helped us to understand what the sun and moon were, and how they work, humans have been guessing at the role of these magical objects in the sky. Our calendar, our sleeping and waking, what we eat and even when we are most likely to have babies are all dictated by the sun.

The Summer Solstice is a centuries-old celebration of the longest day of the year, the day when the sun’s light reaches earth for longer than any other. With so much light around, and the odd eclipse here and there, it is also a great time of year to explore what light really is! 

Spotting the solar eclipse

A partial solar eclipse is where the moon passes between the earth and the sun. Done safely, It’s a stunning thing to see, and if you’re lucky, you can sometimes see the exact moment where the moon is right in front of the sun. This is called an annular eclipse and it looks like this:

annular-eclipse-marek-okon📷 : Marek Okon / Unsplash

There was a partial eclipse earlier in June. Don’t worry if you missed it (it was very cloudy in the UK on the day), we found a stunning slideshow courtesy of BBC Science Focus Magazine of some of the best views of it from around the world!

Invisibility – magic or science?

Making things invisible might seem like magic but a lot of the time it’s just a good ol’ optical illusion. Think about animals camouflaging themselves or those ‘Where’s Wally?’ puzzles? The idea is to trick the eye so you think you can’t see something. And you can try it at home! Here’s a video from our pals at one of my absolute favourite places ‘We the Curious‘ that shows you how!

More Light Science

Explore rainbows, how light travels – and how we can manipulate it to help us solve problems with our Light Box, now available for 4-6 year olds!

Playing with Puffins!

The outdoors is one of the best and easiest ways to explore science. The added bonus is that we know that getting connected to nature makes us feel good too! Renée recently spent a week on Skomer Island, a nature reserve off the west coast of Wales. It’s Puffin breeding season right now, a time she’s always wanted to see first-hand. She also wanted to get up close and personal with puffins and she wasn’t disappointed! Luckily for us, she’s put together a whole heap of resources as part of the Great Science Share for Schools which took place over May and June.

Puffins at Play a talk with Marine Birdlife expert, Annette Fayet

Renée and hosted a live event with Puffin scientist Annette Fayet and ran a Q&A session. Here’s a recording of the whole thing

Photos of the beautiful wildlife that Renee and her family encountered on Skomer

There’s all kind of creatures on Skomer.

  1. Puffins EVERYWHERE!
  2. Short-eared Owl
  3. Spoonbill
  4. St. George’s mushroom
  5. Slow worm
  6. Raven stealing a gull egg
  7. Seals
  8. Razorbills
  9. Guillemots
  10. Lots of different Gulls
  11. Buzzards

Take a look!

Watch Renee’s video diary 

Staying on a Skomer Island is a full-on back-to-basics experience! Renée kept a video diary of her time on the island so that you can see what life is like living off-grid on a nature reserve. You can access the whole series here starting with this episode with Renée waiting to get the boat across!

Read the Great Science Share Blog 

Renee has also written a blog of her experience for The Great Science Share for schools

If you want to get outside and explore the outdoors around you, then take a look at our special offers on Outdoor Curiosity Boxes

Interested in visiting Skomer?

Head over to the South & West Wales Wildlife Trust website for all the details.

Photo credits to Kerry Fisher Instagram: @last_of_the_late_developers

The story of Vaisakhi and why everything is connected

For the Sikh and Hindu community, Vaisakha – the second month of the lunar calendar broadly matches up with April and Vaisakhi (Vah-Sah-key) is the first day of this celebration. Vaisakhi, which falls on the 13th or 14th of April, is when many Sikhs and Hindus will celebrate the beginning of spring, the spring harvest and the role of nature in sustaining the world.

Vaisakhi is a profoundly important day for the 30million Sikhs across the world. It not only celebrates nature, it also marks the creation of the Khalsa in cementing the identity and attributes of the Sikhs! If you don’t know the story – here’s a quick intro.

The formation of the Khalsa

In 1699, 100,000s of people gathered at the Vaisakhi harvest festival where the 10th Sikh Guru called out to those who would stand for what is right. 5 souls stood up Deya (meaning compassion) Singh, Dharam (meaning knowledge) Singh, Himmat (meaning courage) Singh, Mokham (meaning resilience) Singh and Sahib (meaning mastery) Singh and they formed the Khalsa. The Khalsa were the first initiated Sikhs.

They came from different backgrounds and locations and so represented a central tenet of Sikhism that is universality of the human race. It has the concept of “sarbat da bhala” which means “may good come to all.”

Everyone’s talking about Universality

The idea of oneness wasn’t born on that day in 1699. Sikh scriptures date much further back, and discussions of the universe often appear. Sikh scholars had already begun thinking that there was no end to the vastness of the universe, with Guru Nanak (1469-1539) writing “There are earths, beyond earths, beyond earths” and “There are skies above skies and earths below earths.”

This was at a time when most scientists thought the whole universe revolved around the earth (talk about selfish!). At about the same time as Guru Nanak was challenging these ideas, another very famous thinker named Copernicus (1473-1543) also rejected the theory that everything revolved around the earth. Jump forward a few hundred years and we now know the universe is enormous, so much so that scientists in the US have found a light signal from over 15 million light years away!

📷 Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

 

Sikhs also see that everything is connected, so we as humans are all connected to one another and with our surroundings. In this way, god is in everything and can be seen through our relationship with nature. Guru Nanak wrote of god as the universal vibration in that “you are the lake and the swan, you are the lotus flower and the water lily”. We now recognise that you, me, the lake and the lotus flower all come from atoms and particles – though scientists may not describe this so poetically!

So as we head into spring, and the “April showers that bring May flowers”, look up at the skies, the stars (and even those distant stars beyond stars) and marvel at how you are as connected to them as you are to the people and nature that surrounds you!

the-golden-temple-at-night

📷 Mohd Aram on Unsplash

A huge shout-out and thanks to AI/Data Tech expert and dad of three curious girls, Indi Singh for writing this piece and enlightening us all!
A happy Vaisakhi to everyone celebrating! If you want to find out more about Vaisakhi check out this fantastic BBC Bitesize article.
the-golden-temple-at-night

Autism – normal doesn’t matter and never did.

Watching my children grow and develop their own personalities has been an incredible, hilarious and sometimes heart wrenching experience. I like to kid myself that it’s all me, but really, they’re blazing their own trail. Sure I’ve made some genetic contributions and I hope that some of the things I try to teach them stick. But since they were born they have been finding their own way of thinking and doing things. And as far as I can tell, the growing child’s brain is a place of mystery, magnificence and quite often black magic.

What’s normal?

Like all parents (tell me I’m not the only one!) I often find myself thinking “blimey, is that normal?” which gets you thinking…What IS normal? What is actually going on at a genetic and cellular level in a child’s brain when they have an identified disorder, like autism? It’s become clear that there’s an awful lot that we don’t know or understand about autistic spectrum disorders. What causes them, what is happening in the brain and what we can do to help people with autism embrace their way of thinking and looking at the world.

The failed gene quest

Studies have tried to identify a single gene that might cause autism but have failed. A group of scientists in Sweden looked at the occurrence of mutations in the genes of 3,000 children with autism compared to 3,000 children without autism. They found similar mutations in both groups, but none that were only present in the autistic group, and no mutations that were very uncommon. Dr Joseph Buxbaum, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) explained that mutations are most likely to account for roughly 60% of the risk of having autism. But of those mutations about half are common mutations.

This study offers support for the idea that autism is caused by a collection of common mutations. If other complex conditions such as cancer give us any clues then it may be a bit like a lottery – and of all the possible mutations, you need a certain number, of a certain combination of mutations to be autistic.

We’re gonna need a bigger dataset

Many researchers are now trying to use the power of big data computing to find patterns in our genes that will help us to diagnose autism more effectively and earlier. Many of the genes that we associate with autism are linked to neuron development, a discovery which could help us to understand more about what’s physically and chemically happening in the brain. We’re also searching for biomarkers and we’re making progress! These biomarkers are proteins or chemicals that are like flashing beacons, illuminating a faulty metabolic pathway.

Mutations rock!

I try to celebrate the uniqueness of my children. Even, or especially when they’re merrily climbing up my very last nerve. It helps me to remember that on a genetic level at least, we all share some of the mutations that lead to neural diversity. Looking at the research, I’m confident we will be better able to diagnose autism in the very near future. And as the world begins to gain a better grasp of what neural diversity is, how many people it affects and the wonderful ways our brains work – the question is could we and should we look at medical treatment? If yes, what form would that treatment or ‘fix’ take?

We’ve come a long way in learning how to embrace the many talents the neural diverse community possess – yet I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface!

autism-awareness-month

P.S. All our Curiosity Boxes have been designed and curated with sensory learning in mind. Please do check them out!

autism-awareness-month

Create your own Icy Snow Globes

 

Make the most of the chill by doing a wonderful winter science activity that is full of sensory science!

You will need:

  • A teacup (or something waterproof that is dome shaped)
  • Water
  • Lovely things to put in it
  • A seriously chilly night

How to do it

  1. Fill the cup with cold tap water. Poke your finger into the water, how does it feel? You could measure and record the temperature if you have a thermometer.
  2. Find some small objects to put into the water, things like marbles, stones, leaves and flowers work well (although our lavender flowers wouldn’t sink, we still liked the effect). How do your objects feel before you put them in the water? Do they feel different after they have been in the water? Do they look different when they are in the water?
  3. Look for an uncovered, flat surface outside and place your water-filled cup on it, you will need to leave it there overnight. Why do you think the surface needs to be uncovered?
  4. Make a prediction: What do you think will happen to the water and your objects when you leave them out overnight? What changes do you think you will see in the morning?
  5. Rise and shine! Go and have a look at your cup then poke the water, has it changed? What has happened to the water? How does it feel now? Was your prediction correct? You could measure the temperature again and see how different it is!
  6. Caution: this next step will get a bit wet so make sure you do it on a wipeable surface, that is clear of anything that could be damaged by water.
  7. Take a flat plate and put it on top of your cup. Holding the cup and the plate together turn it over so that your cup is sitting face down on top of the plate. Gently lift the cup up, what do you see?  What has happened to the objects in your Icy Snow Globe?

What’s going on?

The temperature is regularly getting below freezing point at the moment and that means that water will freeze! It also means that its the perfect time for a winter science activity! You may have noticed ice on the ground or even had some snow! When the temperature gets below 0 degrees centigrade the molecules in water start to slow down and line up, creating a regular pattern that turns liquid water into a solid, you will know this as ice!  The ice will form from the outside in, where it is closest to the air. This is because the air is colder that the water in the cup. Because there is quite a lot of water in the cup, the bit right in the middle might not have gotten cold enough to freeze. Can you see any bubbles and liquid water trapped inside the icy dome?

Now that you know how to make an icy science snow globe, what else could you do? I think there are so many creative things you could try! Take a look at the little video I made of my icy snow globes with some gem stones in one and nothing in the other on our instagram page Are there other winter science activities using the weird and wonderful properties of water that you could try?

 

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