Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My New Books -- Perfect for Families Who Love Science!

This past year has been busy -- but the result has been TWO new books with tons of amazing science and other geeky projects for kids and families!

Geek Mom: Projects, Tips, and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st-Century Families is a new book from Potter Craft co-authored by me and the other editors of's GeekMom blog: Natania Barron, Corrina Lawson and Jenny Williams.Written primarily for moms who want to share their geeky interests with their kids, it includes fun activities like superhero costumes, math puzzles, snack food hacks, and science-y crafts, as well as a whole chapter of at-home experiments.

Robotics: Discover the Science and Technology of the Future with 20 Projects, a book for kids ages 9-12 from Nomad Press, is packed full of information about how robots work and contains "low tech/no tech" projects based on actual robotics research. No special tools or skills are needed to build any of the working robotics models in this book -- just ordinary crafts materials and recycled electronics parts!

Both these books are available from Amazon or your favorite local bookstore. You can see sample projects and photos and read more about the books on my website Crafts for Learning, my Amazing Robotics Projects Facebook page, and on GeekMom and GeekDad!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Transit of Venus and a Space Shuttle

GeekMom, the blog I helped found and co-edit, has moved to, where things are hopping! I've been so busy that science blogging has taken a back seat. But here's a quick update on some cool science things we've been doing.

Above, I was lucky enough to be in New York City when the Space Shuttle Enterprise sailed from Long Island to New Jersey and onward to its final resting place on the Intrepid Museum in Manhattan. I wrote a bit more about the exciting event in a post on GeekMom.

And on June 5, the family pulled out the Galileoscope to view the transit of Venus across the face of the sun. Although it was cloudy most of the day, the skies did open long enough to let us project this great view of the disk of Venus against the sun. Note the sunspots as well.

I'll continue to cross-post here, but for timely news about our science goings-on, please visit GeekMom! And if you're interested in news about robotics (and my forthcoming activity book), stop by the Amazing Robotics Projects Facebook page!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

More Galileoscope Viewing -- The Sun and Venus

The crescent of Venus, refracted by Earth's atmosphere. Image: Kathy Ceceri

My post on GeekMom today includes a photo of a crescent Venus. I was surprised and thrilled to see it when I peeked through the telescope!

And I failed to mention in the post that as I was setting up the telescope, I saw a good-sized meteor fall straight down! It was an amazing night for viewing.

If you're in the path of the eclipse tomorrow, go out and take a look (but safely). And next month, almost everyone will get to watch Venus make a transit across the face of the sun. Exciting!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Still Working on Robotics...

Where have we been? Still watching The Joy of Science, and still working on the Robotics book and various accessories, such as a Teaching Guide.

If you'd like to see what we're up to during this busy time, come visit my Robotics Facebook Fan page (you don't have to be a member of Facebook to see it) and GeekMom, now on!

And you can see photos and videos of many of our robotics projects and read about my programs for schools, libraries and museums on my website Crafts for Learning.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sunspot Update

It was another sunny, warm day today, so I took the telescope outside to look for sunspots again. This time, I used photo paper to try to get a smoother surface for the projected image. I also made a collar for the telescope out of black foamboard to make the image easier to see and photograph. Unfortunately, the telescope itself was pretty shaky today, so the only really clear photo I got was this one, which is at enough of an angle to distort the circle of the sun.

Something else I was curious to see was whether the big sunspot from yesterday had moved with the sun's rotation. I think it is, indeed, a little closer to the left edge of the sun. What do you think?

If you look closely, you can also make out two sunspots that were not visible yesterday. They are on the right side, just above and below the height of the large spot on the left, and lined up one above the other.

Considering I didn't have to leave my front porch to do this celestial viewing, I think it's pretty awesome!


Last year we tried and failed to use our Galileoscope to see sunspots. There were two problems: there were no sunspots to see that day, and we had the telescope pointed the wrong way!

With news of the massive solar flares heading towards Earth this past week, I decided to give it another try. I read over the directions on again and corrected our mistake with the setup. Success!

Go to my blog post on GeekMom to see how we did it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Grains of Salt and the Formation of Planets

We've been watching the Discovery Channel series How the Universe Works. While a bit light on content and a tad repetitious, it also features amazing animations and lots of actual images we hadn't seen before.

One of the most interesting factoids involved a casual experiment on the International Space Station that solved the mystery of how planets form. Watch the clip above to find out!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Michio Kaku and Physics of the Future

It's been a while, but with my oldest son safely off at college, my 16 year old and I are starting to pick up where we left off in The Joy of Science. The last couple lectures have dealt with the universe, galaxies and black holes. And since the DVD series, while wonderful, is now rather old, I thought we should supplement it with something more recent.

The newest and most highly rated documentary series I could find was How the Universe Works from the Discovery Channel. The writing seems a tad light compared to the PBS series we are used to, but the animations and actual footage are stunning. As a visual learner myself I just rejoice when an animation makes it possible to grasp some concept that would be impossible to picture from a description on a page.

We've only seen two episodes, but both have featured someone I had heard of but never seen before: physicist Michio Kaku, one of the developers of string theory. And it just so happened that the Times Union featured an interview with Kaku in advance of his appearance at UAlbany. I thought it would be fun to run down there and attend the free lecture.

The topic was advanced physics -- mainly nanotechnology, in which UAlbany and the surrounding area are beginning to specialize. Kaku called the area "ground zero" for nano research. Still, even with the TU article, I was surprised to find that the ballroom on the Albany campus was standing room only. I counted more than a 1,000 people in the room. And amazingly, my son and I managed to find seats right up front.

Kaku presented some of the ideas from his new book, Physics of the Future. The lecture was interesting, even if some of the "future" technologies are already here (a phone that will make dinner reservations for you -- I believe it's called Siri) or seem as likely as the jetpack we were all promised back when I was a kid. Underscoring the reality of what "could" be with what probably "will" be was the primitive projection system in the ballroom, which made it hard for Kaku to show a video clip after his Power Point presentation. Looking around the room during the lecture at the rattling curtains and the chandeliers hanging scarily askew -- looking like they hadn't been updated since I went there 35 years ago -- it made me wonder how this country can try to take the lead in technology when our infrastructure is allowed to crumble.

Still, it was a fun jaunt, the lecture was entertaining, and although we decided not to battle the crowds to buy a book and get it autographed, I think I will try to borrow a copy from the library as soon as I get the chance.

My favorite takeaway from the evening came with the last question: Asked what he thought was the most important discovery of the last few years, Kaku pointed out that every science textbook which claims that everything in the universe is made of atoms was wrong. In fact, he said, atoms only account for 4 percent of the universe. The rest is made up of dark matter and dark energy. Sitting there following the discussion, I felt that it was a validation that I made the right choice when I decided that our study of physics would focus on the latest discoveries rather than rehashing Newton's Laws yet again.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

We've Been Building Robots...

If you've been wondering where we went, the past few months have been spent developing projects for two book projects. One is an activity book for ages 9-12 about Robotics. You can see some of them on the Facebook fan page I created. (A companion blog is forthcoming.)

The other book is a joint project with the other editors of GeekMom! I'll post more news of that as it develops.