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5 gross (and awesome) things about your body

The human body is A-MAZING! From the fact that you breath without even thinking about it, to the way we digest food and fight off diseases like superheroes, it is one amazing machine. Our bodies are also the cause of a lot of questions! What are bogies made of? Why do farts smell? Why is poo brown? Why do some people have different coloured hair? What is a burp?

1. Why do people burp and fart?

The human body is GASSY! Sometimes when we eat food, we gulp down air as well. That air gets trapped inside our digestive system but it wants to escape. The escaping air will come out as a burp! You are more likely to get burpy if you eat too fast or if you eat or drink something that already has air trapped in it, like fizzy water.

Bottom burps, farts, pops, parps, trumps and pop offs, whatever you call them, we all do them, but they happen for a different reason to burps. When we eat food, it gets broken down in your digestive system all the way from your mouth, right down into your gut, into teeny, tiny pieces. Your gut is home to whole families of different micro beasts like bacteria and yeasts (most of them are your buddies and essential for your health!) that help you to break down your food. They chomp away at the bits of food and release the nutrients that you need to stay healthy BUT they burp too! Those tiny bacterial burps build up inside your intestines, and they also need to escape, but where can they escape from? These burps happen in the depths of your digestive system, so rather than escaping back up through your mouth as a burp, the gas is pushed out through your bottom as a fart! 

2. How do bones know when to stop growing?

We all know that children grow SO fast! Sometimes they seem to shoot up a whole size overnight! But we humans don’t just keep growing forever, so how does our body, and specifically our bones, know when it’s time to stop growing? To understand this, we first need to find out how our bones grow in the first place. Dr Chris and Dr Xand explain in the video below

When and how much your bones grow depends on your growth plates. Each of your bones has a growth plate and both ends and these are the gateway for layers of bone cells to be laid down, like building a tower out of lego bricks. Your body says it’s time to stop growing when chemicals called hormones, instruct the growth plate to harden up. Once the growth plate gateway is closed no new bone cell layers will be added and your bones won’t get any longer. This means, for most of us, whether you are taller, shorter or right on average, the height you are is the perfect height for you!

3. Why do we have nails?

Did you know that your finger and toe nails are made of the same stuff as your hair!!?? Keratin is a super strong protein that our body just loves to make, but how do nails grow and why do we have them at all?

Our nail cells grow from an area under the skin called the nail bed. As they grow, the cells change and become keratin. Keratin in our nails is packed together really tightly to form a shield shape that is strong, clear and waterproof. Nails help to protect our precious fingers, they also increase sensitivity of the squishy pad beneath them. Nails are useful tools, they help us to get at food, for example that delicious orange that you need to peel. Find out more about the anatomy of nails in this video:

 

Interestingly, keratin is also a main ingredient in scales and feathers! You may have also noticed that nails are a bit like claws on other four legged animals.  If you want to find out the history of claws and nails from waaaaayyyy back in time then check out this amazing video which is FULL of incredible animal facts!

4. Why do I get hiccups?

Did you know you have a big stretchy muscle in your body that is a bit like a trampoline!? It is called the Diaphragm and it sits under your lungs. Without you even knowing about it, your diaphragm is constantly contracting and expanding to help air get in and out of your lungs, that is until… you get hiccups! Then you REALLY know about it!

Hiccups start when your diaphragm has a sudden spasm, this means the muscle contracts quickly and vigorously. This confuses your body and normal control of air into the lungs makes pockets of air get trapped. You have another special muscle in your throat that stops food and liquid getting into your lungs, this is called your Glottis. The glottis opens and shuts rapidly and the HIC you hear is actually the sound of your glottis smacking together as it shuts!

Try it! If you put a hand on your bottom and quickly clench your bottom muscles you will be able to feel what happens when a muscle contracts.

It seems that hiccups are a bit of a body glitch, they serve no obvious purpose, but they might give clues about our ancient, evolutionary link to fish! Check out this short video to find out about the fastest and longest hiccups in the world!

5. Why are veins blue when our blood is red?

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You are right, blood IS red and even though it might look bluish in your veins, your blood is ALWAYS red! This is because your blood contains special cells called red blood cells (scientists are not very inventive with names sometimes!). Red blood cells have a really cool structure that looks a bit like a bowl with 4 piles of spaghetti and a tomato sitting on top of each pile like this:

The “tomato” is a bit of Iron which is bright red when it touches Oxygen. Imagine one red blood cell on its journey around your body. It starts in your heart and is pushed into your lungs where it get flooded with Oxygen from the air you breathe. Puffed up with oxygen, the red blood cell whizzes through your arteries delivering Oxygen to things like your brain and muscles. As the red blood cell offloads its Oxygen the red of the iron gets dull, and as the red blood cell makes its way back to the heart through your veins it isn’t such a vibrant red anymore.

Try it! Look at the inside of your wrists. The skin here is very thin and your veins and arteries are close to the surface of your skin. Do your veins look blue?

We know that the blood cells are red so why do the veins look blue!?  Light can pass through the thin layers of skin and into your blood vessels, then that light reflects back into your eyes so you can see the blood vessels there. Blood cells with less oxygen absorb red light so the light that reflects back to your eyes doesn’t have much red in it, so the blood vessel looks bluish!

Here is a nice explanation of why your veins look blue from the team at We The Curious

 

 

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

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5 gross (and awesome) things about your body

The human body is A-MAZING! From the fact that you breath without even thinking about it, to the way we digest food and fight off diseases like superheroes, it is one amazing machine. Our bodies are also the cause of a lot of questions! What are bogies made of? Why do farts smell? Why is poo brown? Why do some people have different coloured hair? What is a burp?

1. Why do people burp and fart?

The human body is GASSY! Sometimes when we eat food, we gulp down air as well. That air gets trapped inside our digestive system but it wants to escape. The escaping air will come out as a burp! You are more likely to get burpy if you eat too fast or if you eat or drink something that already has air trapped in it, like fizzy water.

Bottom burps, farts, pops, parps, trumps and pop offs, whatever you call them, we all do them, but they happen for a different reason to burps. When we eat food, it gets broken down in your digestive system all the way from your mouth, right down into your gut, into teeny, tiny pieces. Your gut is home to whole families of different micro beasts like bacteria and yeasts (most of them are your buddies and essential for your health!) that help you to break down your food. They chomp away at the bits of food and release the nutrients that you need to stay healthy BUT they burp too! Those tiny bacterial burps build up inside your intestines, and they also need to escape, but where can they escape from? These burps happen in the depths of your digestive system, so rather than escaping back up through your mouth as a burp, the gas is pushed out through your bottom as a fart! 

2. How do bones know when to stop growing?

We all know that children grow SO fast! Sometimes they seem to shoot up a whole size overnight! But we humans don’t just keep growing forever, so how does our body, and specifically our bones, know when it’s time to stop growing? To understand this, we first need to find out how our bones grow in the first place. Dr Chris and Dr Xand explain in the video below

When and how much your bones grow depends on your growth plates. Each of your bones has a growth plate and both ends and these are the gateway for layers of bone cells to be laid down, like building a tower out of lego bricks. Your body says it’s time to stop growing when chemicals called hormones, instruct the growth plate to harden up. Once the growth plate gateway is closed no new bone cell layers will be added and your bones won’t get any longer. This means, for most of us, whether you are taller, shorter or right on average, the height you are is the perfect height for you!

3. Why do we have nails?

Did you know that your finger and toe nails are made of the same stuff as your hair!!?? Keratin is a super strong protein that our body just loves to make, but how do nails grow and why do we have them at all?

Our nail cells grow from an area under the skin called the nail bed. As they grow, the cells change and become keratin. Keratin in our nails is packed together really tightly to form a shield shape that is strong, clear and waterproof. Nails help to protect our precious fingers, they also increase sensitivity of the squishy pad beneath them. Nails are useful tools, they help us to get at food, for example that delicious orange that you need to peel. Find out more about the anatomy of nails in this video:

 

Interestingly, keratin is also a main ingredient in scales and feathers! You may have also noticed that nails are a bit like claws on other four legged animals.  If you want to find out the history of claws and nails from waaaaayyyy back in time then check out this amazing video which is FULL of incredible animal facts!

4. Why do I get hiccups?

Did you know you have a big stretchy muscle in your body that is a bit like a trampoline!? It is called the Diaphragm and it sits under your lungs. Without you even knowing about it, your diaphragm is constantly contracting and expanding to help air get in and out of your lungs, that is until… you get hiccups! Then you REALLY know about it!

Hiccups start when your diaphragm has a sudden spasm, this means the muscle contracts quickly and vigorously. This confuses your body and normal control of air into the lungs makes pockets of air get trapped. You have another special muscle in your throat that stops food and liquid getting into your lungs, this is called your Glottis. The glottis opens and shuts rapidly and the HIC you hear is actually the sound of your glottis smacking together as it shuts!

Try it! If you put a hand on your bottom and quickly clench your bottom muscles you will be able to feel what happens when a muscle contracts.

It seems that hiccups are a bit of a body glitch, they serve no obvious purpose, but they might give clues about our ancient, evolutionary link to fish! Check out this short video to find out about the fastest and longest hiccups in the world!

5. Why are veins blue when our blood is red?

http://students893.x.fc2.com/paraphrasing/paper-1436.html

You are right, blood IS red and even though it might look bluish in your veins, your blood is ALWAYS red! This is because your blood contains special cells called red blood cells (scientists are not very inventive with names sometimes!). Red blood cells have a really cool structure that looks a bit like a bowl with 4 piles of spaghetti and a tomato sitting on top of each pile like this:

The “tomato” is a bit of Iron which is bright red when it touches Oxygen. Imagine one red blood cell on its journey around your body. It starts in your heart and is pushed into your lungs where it get flooded with Oxygen from the air you breathe. Puffed up with oxygen, the red blood cell whizzes through your arteries delivering Oxygen to things like your brain and muscles. As the red blood cell offloads its Oxygen the red of the iron gets dull, and as the red blood cell makes its way back to the heart through your veins it isn’t such a vibrant red anymore.

Try it! Look at the inside of your wrists. The skin here is very thin and your veins and arteries are close to the surface of your skin. Do your veins look blue?

We know that the blood cells are red so why do the veins look blue!?  Light can pass through the thin layers of skin and into your blood vessels, then that light reflects back into your eyes so you can see the blood vessels there. Blood cells with less oxygen absorb red light so the light that reflects back to your eyes doesn’t have much red in it, so the blood vessel looks bluish!

Here is a nice explanation of why your veins look blue from the team at We The Curious

 

 

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!

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Style 3

5 gross (and awesome) things about your body

The human body is A-MAZING! From the fact that you breath without even thinking about it, to the way we digest food and fight off diseases like superheroes, it is one amazing machine. Our bodies are also the cause of a lot of questions! What are bogies made of? Why do farts smell? Why is poo brown? Why do some people have different coloured hair? What is a burp?

1. Why do people burp and fart?

The human body is GASSY! Sometimes when we eat food, we gulp down air as well. That air gets trapped inside our digestive system but it wants to escape. The escaping air will come out as a burp! You are more likely to get burpy if you eat too fast or if you eat or drink something that already has air trapped in it, like fizzy water.

Bottom burps, farts, pops, parps, trumps and pop offs, whatever you call them, we all do them, but they happen for a different reason to burps. When we eat food, it gets broken down in your digestive system all the way from your mouth, right down into your gut, into teeny, tiny pieces. Your gut is home to whole families of different micro beasts like bacteria and yeasts (most of them are your buddies and essential for your health!) that help you to break down your food. They chomp away at the bits of food and release the nutrients that you need to stay healthy BUT they burp too! Those tiny bacterial burps build up inside your intestines, and they also need to escape, but where can they escape from? These burps happen in the depths of your digestive system, so rather than escaping back up through your mouth as a burp, the gas is pushed out through your bottom as a fart! 

2. How do bones know when to stop growing?

We all know that children grow SO fast! Sometimes they seem to shoot up a whole size overnight! But we humans don’t just keep growing forever, so how does our body, and specifically our bones, know when it’s time to stop growing? To understand this, we first need to find out how our bones grow in the first place. Dr Chris and Dr Xand explain in the video below

When and how much your bones grow depends on your growth plates. Each of your bones has a growth plate and both ends and these are the gateway for layers of bone cells to be laid down, like building a tower out of lego bricks. Your body says it’s time to stop growing when chemicals called hormones, instruct the growth plate to harden up. Once the growth plate gateway is closed no new bone cell layers will be added and your bones won’t get any longer. This means, for most of us, whether you are taller, shorter or right on average, the height you are is the perfect height for you!

3. Why do we have nails?

Did you know that your finger and toe nails are made of the same stuff as your hair!!?? Keratin is a super strong protein that our body just loves to make, but how do nails grow and why do we have them at all?

Our nail cells grow from an area under the skin called the nail bed. As they grow, the cells change and become keratin. Keratin in our nails is packed together really tightly to form a shield shape that is strong, clear and waterproof. Nails help to protect our precious fingers, they also increase sensitivity of the squishy pad beneath them. Nails are useful tools, they help us to get at food, for example that delicious orange that you need to peel. Find out more about the anatomy of nails in this video:

 

Interestingly, keratin is also a main ingredient in scales and feathers! You may have also noticed that nails are a bit like claws on other four legged animals.  If you want to find out the history of claws and nails from waaaaayyyy back in time then check out this amazing video which is FULL of incredible animal facts!

4. Why do I get hiccups?

Did you know you have a big stretchy muscle in your body that is a bit like a trampoline!? It is called the Diaphragm and it sits under your lungs. Without you even knowing about it, your diaphragm is constantly contracting and expanding to help air get in and out of your lungs, that is until… you get hiccups! Then you REALLY know about it!

Hiccups start when your diaphragm has a sudden spasm, this means the muscle contracts quickly and vigorously. This confuses your body and normal control of air into the lungs makes pockets of air get trapped. You have another special muscle in your throat that stops food and liquid getting into your lungs, this is called your Glottis. The glottis opens and shuts rapidly and the HIC you hear is actually the sound of your glottis smacking together as it shuts!

Try it! If you put a hand on your bottom and quickly clench your bottom muscles you will be able to feel what happens when a muscle contracts.

It seems that hiccups are a bit of a body glitch, they serve no obvious purpose, but they might give clues about our ancient, evolutionary link to fish! Check out this short video to find out about the fastest and longest hiccups in the world!

5. Why are veins blue when our blood is red?

http://students893.x.fc2.com/paraphrasing/paper-1436.html

You are right, blood IS red and even though it might look bluish in your veins, your blood is ALWAYS red! This is because your blood contains special cells called red blood cells (scientists are not very inventive with names sometimes!). Red blood cells have a really cool structure that looks a bit like a bowl with 4 piles of spaghetti and a tomato sitting on top of each pile like this:

The “tomato” is a bit of Iron which is bright red when it touches Oxygen. Imagine one red blood cell on its journey around your body. It starts in your heart and is pushed into your lungs where it get flooded with Oxygen from the air you breathe. Puffed up with oxygen, the red blood cell whizzes through your arteries delivering Oxygen to things like your brain and muscles. As the red blood cell offloads its Oxygen the red of the iron gets dull, and as the red blood cell makes its way back to the heart through your veins it isn’t such a vibrant red anymore.

Try it! Look at the inside of your wrists. The skin here is very thin and your veins and arteries are close to the surface of your skin. Do your veins look blue?

We know that the blood cells are red so why do the veins look blue!?  Light can pass through the thin layers of skin and into your blood vessels, then that light reflects back into your eyes so you can see the blood vessels there. Blood cells with less oxygen absorb red light so the light that reflects back to your eyes doesn’t have much red in it, so the blood vessel looks bluish!

Here is a nice explanation of why your veins look blue from the team at We The Curious

 

 

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

Style 4

5 gross (and awesome) things about your body

The human body is A-MAZING! From the fact that you breath without even thinking about it, to the way we digest food and fight off diseases like superheroes, it is one amazing machine. Our bodies are also the cause of a lot of questions! What are bogies made of? Why do farts smell? Why is poo brown? Why do some people have different coloured hair? What is a burp?

1. Why do people burp and fart?

The human body is GASSY! Sometimes when we eat food, we gulp down air as well. That air gets trapped inside our digestive system but it wants to escape. The escaping air will come out as a burp! You are more likely to get burpy if you eat too fast or if you eat or drink something that already has air trapped in it, like fizzy water.

Bottom burps, farts, pops, parps, trumps and pop offs, whatever you call them, we all do them, but they happen for a different reason to burps. When we eat food, it gets broken down in your digestive system all the way from your mouth, right down into your gut, into teeny, tiny pieces. Your gut is home to whole families of different micro beasts like bacteria and yeasts (most of them are your buddies and essential for your health!) that help you to break down your food. They chomp away at the bits of food and release the nutrients that you need to stay healthy BUT they burp too! Those tiny bacterial burps build up inside your intestines, and they also need to escape, but where can they escape from? These burps happen in the depths of your digestive system, so rather than escaping back up through your mouth as a burp, the gas is pushed out through your bottom as a fart! 

2. How do bones know when to stop growing?

We all know that children grow SO fast! Sometimes they seem to shoot up a whole size overnight! But we humans don’t just keep growing forever, so how does our body, and specifically our bones, know when it’s time to stop growing? To understand this, we first need to find out how our bones grow in the first place. Dr Chris and Dr Xand explain in the video below

When and how much your bones grow depends on your growth plates. Each of your bones has a growth plate and both ends and these are the gateway for layers of bone cells to be laid down, like building a tower out of lego bricks. Your body says it’s time to stop growing when chemicals called hormones, instruct the growth plate to harden up. Once the growth plate gateway is closed no new bone cell layers will be added and your bones won’t get any longer. This means, for most of us, whether you are taller, shorter or right on average, the height you are is the perfect height for you!

3. Why do we have nails?

Did you know that your finger and toe nails are made of the same stuff as your hair!!?? Keratin is a super strong protein that our body just loves to make, but how do nails grow and why do we have them at all?

Our nail cells grow from an area under the skin called the nail bed. As they grow, the cells change and become keratin. Keratin in our nails is packed together really tightly to form a shield shape that is strong, clear and waterproof. Nails help to protect our precious fingers, they also increase sensitivity of the squishy pad beneath them. Nails are useful tools, they help us to get at food, for example that delicious orange that you need to peel. Find out more about the anatomy of nails in this video:

 

Interestingly, keratin is also a main ingredient in scales and feathers! You may have also noticed that nails are a bit like claws on other four legged animals.  If you want to find out the history of claws and nails from waaaaayyyy back in time then check out this amazing video which is FULL of incredible animal facts!

4. Why do I get hiccups?

Did you know you have a big stretchy muscle in your body that is a bit like a trampoline!? It is called the Diaphragm and it sits under your lungs. Without you even knowing about it, your diaphragm is constantly contracting and expanding to help air get in and out of your lungs, that is until… you get hiccups! Then you REALLY know about it!

Hiccups start when your diaphragm has a sudden spasm, this means the muscle contracts quickly and vigorously. This confuses your body and normal control of air into the lungs makes pockets of air get trapped. You have another special muscle in your throat that stops food and liquid getting into your lungs, this is called your Glottis. The glottis opens and shuts rapidly and the HIC you hear is actually the sound of your glottis smacking together as it shuts!

Try it! If you put a hand on your bottom and quickly clench your bottom muscles you will be able to feel what happens when a muscle contracts.

It seems that hiccups are a bit of a body glitch, they serve no obvious purpose, but they might give clues about our ancient, evolutionary link to fish! Check out this short video to find out about the fastest and longest hiccups in the world!

5. Why are veins blue when our blood is red?

http://students893.x.fc2.com/paraphrasing/paper-1436.html

You are right, blood IS red and even though it might look bluish in your veins, your blood is ALWAYS red! This is because your blood contains special cells called red blood cells (scientists are not very inventive with names sometimes!). Red blood cells have a really cool structure that looks a bit like a bowl with 4 piles of spaghetti and a tomato sitting on top of each pile like this:

The “tomato” is a bit of Iron which is bright red when it touches Oxygen. Imagine one red blood cell on its journey around your body. It starts in your heart and is pushed into your lungs where it get flooded with Oxygen from the air you breathe. Puffed up with oxygen, the red blood cell whizzes through your arteries delivering Oxygen to things like your brain and muscles. As the red blood cell offloads its Oxygen the red of the iron gets dull, and as the red blood cell makes its way back to the heart through your veins it isn’t such a vibrant red anymore.

Try it! Look at the inside of your wrists. The skin here is very thin and your veins and arteries are close to the surface of your skin. Do your veins look blue?

We know that the blood cells are red so why do the veins look blue!?  Light can pass through the thin layers of skin and into your blood vessels, then that light reflects back into your eyes so you can see the blood vessels there. Blood cells with less oxygen absorb red light so the light that reflects back to your eyes doesn’t have much red in it, so the blood vessel looks bluish!

Here is a nice explanation of why your veins look blue from the team at We The Curious

 

 

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!

Style 5

5 gross (and awesome) things about your body

The human body is A-MAZING! From the fact that you breath without even thinking about it, to the way we digest food and fight off diseases like superheroes, it is one amazing machine. Our bodies are also the cause of a lot of questions! What are bogies made of? Why do farts smell? Why is poo brown? Why do some people have different coloured hair? What is a burp?

1. Why do people burp and fart?

The human body is GASSY! Sometimes when we eat food, we gulp down air as well. That air gets trapped inside our digestive system but it wants to escape. The escaping air will come out as a burp! You are more likely to get burpy if you eat too fast or if you eat or drink something that already has air trapped in it, like fizzy water.

Bottom burps, farts, pops, parps, trumps and pop offs, whatever you call them, we all do them, but they happen for a different reason to burps. When we eat food, it gets broken down in your digestive system all the way from your mouth, right down into your gut, into teeny, tiny pieces. Your gut is home to whole families of different micro beasts like bacteria and yeasts (most of them are your buddies and essential for your health!) that help you to break down your food. They chomp away at the bits of food and release the nutrients that you need to stay healthy BUT they burp too! Those tiny bacterial burps build up inside your intestines, and they also need to escape, but where can they escape from? These burps happen in the depths of your digestive system, so rather than escaping back up through your mouth as a burp, the gas is pushed out through your bottom as a fart! 

2. How do bones know when to stop growing?

We all know that children grow SO fast! Sometimes they seem to shoot up a whole size overnight! But we humans don’t just keep growing forever, so how does our body, and specifically our bones, know when it’s time to stop growing? To understand this, we first need to find out how our bones grow in the first place. Dr Chris and Dr Xand explain in the video below

When and how much your bones grow depends on your growth plates. Each of your bones has a growth plate and both ends and these are the gateway for layers of bone cells to be laid down, like building a tower out of lego bricks. Your body says it’s time to stop growing when chemicals called hormones, instruct the growth plate to harden up. Once the growth plate gateway is closed no new bone cell layers will be added and your bones won’t get any longer. This means, for most of us, whether you are taller, shorter or right on average, the height you are is the perfect height for you!

3. Why do we have nails?

Did you know that your finger and toe nails are made of the same stuff as your hair!!?? Keratin is a super strong protein that our body just loves to make, but how do nails grow and why do we have them at all?

Our nail cells grow from an area under the skin called the nail bed. As they grow, the cells change and become keratin. Keratin in our nails is packed together really tightly to form a shield shape that is strong, clear and waterproof. Nails help to protect our precious fingers, they also increase sensitivity of the squishy pad beneath them. Nails are useful tools, they help us to get at food, for example that delicious orange that you need to peel. Find out more about the anatomy of nails in this video:

 

Interestingly, keratin is also a main ingredient in scales and feathers! You may have also noticed that nails are a bit like claws on other four legged animals.  If you want to find out the history of claws and nails from waaaaayyyy back in time then check out this amazing video which is FULL of incredible animal facts!

4. Why do I get hiccups?

Did you know you have a big stretchy muscle in your body that is a bit like a trampoline!? It is called the Diaphragm and it sits under your lungs. Without you even knowing about it, your diaphragm is constantly contracting and expanding to help air get in and out of your lungs, that is until… you get hiccups! Then you REALLY know about it!

Hiccups start when your diaphragm has a sudden spasm, this means the muscle contracts quickly and vigorously. This confuses your body and normal control of air into the lungs makes pockets of air get trapped. You have another special muscle in your throat that stops food and liquid getting into your lungs, this is called your Glottis. The glottis opens and shuts rapidly and the HIC you hear is actually the sound of your glottis smacking together as it shuts!

Try it! If you put a hand on your bottom and quickly clench your bottom muscles you will be able to feel what happens when a muscle contracts.

It seems that hiccups are a bit of a body glitch, they serve no obvious purpose, but they might give clues about our ancient, evolutionary link to fish! Check out this short video to find out about the fastest and longest hiccups in the world!

5. Why are veins blue when our blood is red?

http://students893.x.fc2.com/paraphrasing/paper-1436.html

You are right, blood IS red and even though it might look bluish in your veins, your blood is ALWAYS red! This is because your blood contains special cells called red blood cells (scientists are not very inventive with names sometimes!). Red blood cells have a really cool structure that looks a bit like a bowl with 4 piles of spaghetti and a tomato sitting on top of each pile like this:

The “tomato” is a bit of Iron which is bright red when it touches Oxygen. Imagine one red blood cell on its journey around your body. It starts in your heart and is pushed into your lungs where it get flooded with Oxygen from the air you breathe. Puffed up with oxygen, the red blood cell whizzes through your arteries delivering Oxygen to things like your brain and muscles. As the red blood cell offloads its Oxygen the red of the iron gets dull, and as the red blood cell makes its way back to the heart through your veins it isn’t such a vibrant red anymore.

Try it! Look at the inside of your wrists. The skin here is very thin and your veins and arteries are close to the surface of your skin. Do your veins look blue?

We know that the blood cells are red so why do the veins look blue!?  Light can pass through the thin layers of skin and into your blood vessels, then that light reflects back into your eyes so you can see the blood vessels there. Blood cells with less oxygen absorb red light so the light that reflects back to your eyes doesn’t have much red in it, so the blood vessel looks bluish!

Here is a nice explanation of why your veins look blue from the team at We The Curious

 

 

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

Style 6

5 gross (and awesome) things about your body

The human body is A-MAZING! From the fact that you breath without even thinking about it, to the way we digest food and fight off diseases like superheroes, it is one amazing machine. Our bodies are also the cause of a lot of questions! What are bogies made of? Why do farts smell? Why is poo brown? Why do some people have different coloured hair? What is a burp?

1. Why do people burp and fart?

The human body is GASSY! Sometimes when we eat food, we gulp down air as well. That air gets trapped inside our digestive system but it wants to escape. The escaping air will come out as a burp! You are more likely to get burpy if you eat too fast or if you eat or drink something that already has air trapped in it, like fizzy water.

Bottom burps, farts, pops, parps, trumps and pop offs, whatever you call them, we all do them, but they happen for a different reason to burps. When we eat food, it gets broken down in your digestive system all the way from your mouth, right down into your gut, into teeny, tiny pieces. Your gut is home to whole families of different micro beasts like bacteria and yeasts (most of them are your buddies and essential for your health!) that help you to break down your food. They chomp away at the bits of food and release the nutrients that you need to stay healthy BUT they burp too! Those tiny bacterial burps build up inside your intestines, and they also need to escape, but where can they escape from? These burps happen in the depths of your digestive system, so rather than escaping back up through your mouth as a burp, the gas is pushed out through your bottom as a fart! 

2. How do bones know when to stop growing?

We all know that children grow SO fast! Sometimes they seem to shoot up a whole size overnight! But we humans don’t just keep growing forever, so how does our body, and specifically our bones, know when it’s time to stop growing? To understand this, we first need to find out how our bones grow in the first place. Dr Chris and Dr Xand explain in the video below

When and how much your bones grow depends on your growth plates. Each of your bones has a growth plate and both ends and these are the gateway for layers of bone cells to be laid down, like building a tower out of lego bricks. Your body says it’s time to stop growing when chemicals called hormones, instruct the growth plate to harden up. Once the growth plate gateway is closed no new bone cell layers will be added and your bones won’t get any longer. This means, for most of us, whether you are taller, shorter or right on average, the height you are is the perfect height for you!

3. Why do we have nails?

Did you know that your finger and toe nails are made of the same stuff as your hair!!?? Keratin is a super strong protein that our body just loves to make, but how do nails grow and why do we have them at all?

Our nail cells grow from an area under the skin called the nail bed. As they grow, the cells change and become keratin. Keratin in our nails is packed together really tightly to form a shield shape that is strong, clear and waterproof. Nails help to protect our precious fingers, they also increase sensitivity of the squishy pad beneath them. Nails are useful tools, they help us to get at food, for example that delicious orange that you need to peel. Find out more about the anatomy of nails in this video:

 

Interestingly, keratin is also a main ingredient in scales and feathers! You may have also noticed that nails are a bit like claws on other four legged animals.  If you want to find out the history of claws and nails from waaaaayyyy back in time then check out this amazing video which is FULL of incredible animal facts!

4. Why do I get hiccups?

Did you know you have a big stretchy muscle in your body that is a bit like a trampoline!? It is called the Diaphragm and it sits under your lungs. Without you even knowing about it, your diaphragm is constantly contracting and expanding to help air get in and out of your lungs, that is until… you get hiccups! Then you REALLY know about it!

Hiccups start when your diaphragm has a sudden spasm, this means the muscle contracts quickly and vigorously. This confuses your body and normal control of air into the lungs makes pockets of air get trapped. You have another special muscle in your throat that stops food and liquid getting into your lungs, this is called your Glottis. The glottis opens and shuts rapidly and the HIC you hear is actually the sound of your glottis smacking together as it shuts!

Try it! If you put a hand on your bottom and quickly clench your bottom muscles you will be able to feel what happens when a muscle contracts.

It seems that hiccups are a bit of a body glitch, they serve no obvious purpose, but they might give clues about our ancient, evolutionary link to fish! Check out this short video to find out about the fastest and longest hiccups in the world!

5. Why are veins blue when our blood is red?

http://students893.x.fc2.com/paraphrasing/paper-1436.html

You are right, blood IS red and even though it might look bluish in your veins, your blood is ALWAYS red! This is because your blood contains special cells called red blood cells (scientists are not very inventive with names sometimes!). Red blood cells have a really cool structure that looks a bit like a bowl with 4 piles of spaghetti and a tomato sitting on top of each pile like this:

The “tomato” is a bit of Iron which is bright red when it touches Oxygen. Imagine one red blood cell on its journey around your body. It starts in your heart and is pushed into your lungs where it get flooded with Oxygen from the air you breathe. Puffed up with oxygen, the red blood cell whizzes through your arteries delivering Oxygen to things like your brain and muscles. As the red blood cell offloads its Oxygen the red of the iron gets dull, and as the red blood cell makes its way back to the heart through your veins it isn’t such a vibrant red anymore.

Try it! Look at the inside of your wrists. The skin here is very thin and your veins and arteries are close to the surface of your skin. Do your veins look blue?

We know that the blood cells are red so why do the veins look blue!?  Light can pass through the thin layers of skin and into your blood vessels, then that light reflects back into your eyes so you can see the blood vessels there. Blood cells with less oxygen absorb red light so the light that reflects back to your eyes doesn’t have much red in it, so the blood vessel looks bluish!

Here is a nice explanation of why your veins look blue from the team at We The Curious

 

 

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.
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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
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