Oobleck! It’s one of Arizona Science Center’s favorite non-Newtonian substances and it’s so easy to make at home. Just mix a good amount of cornstarch with a tiny bit of water until a thick paste forms and, eureka! You’ve created a wacky goo that behaves both as a liquid and a solid. However, did you know that scientists are actually looking to use substances like Oobleck to create better body armor? If you’ve ever played with Oobleck, you’ve probably noticed that when you quickly strike it with your hands, it is very solid. And who can forget those crazy folks running across pools of the stuff? Oobleck firms up like a solid when pressure is applied. When there is no pressure, it flows like a liquid. Researchers are interested in this property and have created other sheer-thickening fluids (STFs) that behave just like Oobleck. These STFs are being used to make new gels and fabrics that are flexible and comfortable to wear when no force is applied but when struck, they quickly harden to provide solid protection.

A perfect example of this technology is the Liquid Body Armor created by the University of Delaware and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. Liquid Body Armor is Kevlar saturated by a mixture of nano-sized silica and polyethylene glycol. In a liquid state, the nano-silica particles stay evenly separated but if the Kevlar is hit forcefully, the impact forces the nano-silica particles into small groups called hydroclusters. This hardening only takes milliseconds but once the force is removed, the Kevlar returns to its original flexible state. This amazing new material is still in its experimental phases but it could someday replace traditional military flak jackets or could be used for prison guard uniforms. Other STF-treated fabrics like the nano-silica treated Kevlar are currently being used to make impact-resistant sportswear such as ski hats, football pads, motorcycle jackets, and running shoes. Nanotechnology is out there and it is making our world safer!

To learn more about the cool innovations produced by nanoscientists, visit Arizona Science Center and attend our NanoDay April 5, 2014 or visit http://www.whatisnano.org for more information about nanotechnology.


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“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard” – John F. Kennedy

More than 40 years ago, on September 12, 1962 John F. Kennedy announced to the nation from Rice Stadium, he would move Americans efforts in space to high gear as one of the most important decisions made during his time in office. To date, the United States, Russia and recently China have all accomplished soft landings on the moon. While we
anticipate the day when humanity returns, we should be proud of the Apollo missions and the 12 American astronauts who leave footprints for the future.

Read more…

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You may be asking yourself what a planetarium has to do with an art show.  We all know planetariums are a place to view the wonders of the universe, and a part of those wonders are the things we create right here on Earth. For many years, Mike George, the Senior Manager of Planetarium and Science Visualization, has wanted to use the planetarium as more than a venue to see the stars, but as a venue for art, music and even theatre. Mike George envisioned putting art on the planetarium dome while adding effects to it. Thus, Art360 was born.

Admittedly, we didn’t know how to make the show possible. The initial idea was to use the capabilities we have in our Digistar5 planetarium software to add an extra dimension to the artwork. In essence, that is exactly what we do, but with the added help of Photoshop and After Effects. Therefore, we choose the artists based on if the art can translate to the dome of the planetarium and how effects can be added to the artist’s pieces. Once we digitally receive the art from a chosen artist, we review the pieces and figure out how we can add an extra dimension to each piece. We ask “How can we make it move?” We do not just want to have a slideshow of images; instead, we want to immerse the audience in a way that is beyond even the artist’s expectations.

So, how do we make it move? The process for creating a show is very involved. For most pieces, we use Photoshop to take the art apart by separating out different elements. Then, we use After Effects and/or Digistar5 (our planetarium software) for the animations.

However, a show is not complete without music. Music is the final touch that makes Art360 an immersive experience. Since Art360 is about the artist and their creations, we allow them to choose the music they want for the show. Our job is to place the music where we feel it fits best. When we have the music, we use a program called Audition to edit and/or combine songs to fit the order and length of the show. This is how we create an experience for our guests.

Liz Davison, who works extensively on Art360 in the Dorrance Planetarium says, “When I began my career as a planetarian, I never envisioned myself producing an art show, but it has been a fun and enlightening experience.”

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Is it possible to touch North America and Europe at the same time?  Believe it or not, there is one amazing place in the world where this is possible! This incredible geologic feature, called the Silfra Crack, is accessible at Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park. The Silfra Crack is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that slices through the center of the Atlantic Ocean and is the longest mountain range on earth. However, at 2.5 miles below the ocean surface, it is not easily visible. This ridge is formed from tectonic activity where the North American Plate and the Eurasion plate are diverging. As lava seeps up through the crust, it quickly hardens in the Atlantic’s cold water, and over millions of years, it has built up into a huge mountain range. At Thingvellir National Park, you can witness these massive tectonic plates pulling apart! The park lies on a divergent boundary, and as the American and Eurasion Plates separate, at a rate of 2 centimeters a year, a trench is created. Over time, Icelandic glaciers have melted, been filtered through miles of porous volcanic rock, and have filled in the trench creating a scuba divers wonderland. The filtered water is so pure that you can scoop it up and drink it right there, and because the water is so cold, little aquatic life develops and visibility is spectacular. The Silfra Crack is a popular destination for scuba divers who claim the waters are so calm and clear it is like floating in space. However, the active geology in the area can make diving dangerous as giant rocks are knocked loose and landslides occur.  If you are brave enough to dive these magnificent depths, you will be able to touch one hand to the North American Plate and the other to the Eurasion Plate and be on two continents at once!

Discover more unbelievable facts at “The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!®” at Arizona Science Center through May 4, 2014!



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Through a Governor’s Initiative, Arizona Science Center Provides Professional Learning and Development to Educational Leaders and Teachers Supporting Research-based Practices in Teaching and Learning

Dr. Sharon A. Kortman, Senior Vice President of Learning, Arizona Science Center

Educators are facing a critical time in the learning and development of our youth.  The need for a STEM-literate and STEM-skilled (science, technology, engineering, math) population is ever-increasing to respond to the global challenges of the 21st century.

Research indicates that the number one factor for student achievement is teacher quality, and the number one influence on teacher quality is effective professional development.  There is a need for professional development to incorporate a STEM focus, preparing teachers to integrate content in ways that increase the students’ abilities to practice problem-solving skills and research-based processes for inquiry and collaboration, and engage in scientific and engineering practices through project-based and problem-based STEM learning.

Through an initiative with the Governor’s office, professional learning and development will be provided to teachers and educational leaders to build capacity for research-based models of STEM instruction.  The trainings will include:

1) Alignment of STEM and English Language Arts instruction using the Science and Engineering Practices, Cross-cutting Concepts, and Science Content from the Next Generation Science Standards Framework to produce quality, real-world problem-based learning for all students.

2) Support in the building of a fair at the elementary, middle, and high school levels to compete at local levels and advance to the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair, and potentially to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

3) Designing research classes to support student inquiry and research while partnering with researchers and scientists from higher education or business and industry.

Producing great teachers and great leaders is a developmental process and we are responding to this state-wide need for educational excellence with our expertise in models of STEM teaching and learning as well as our programs and partnerships.  As the new host organization for the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair, we are also building opportunity for the youth of Arizona to engage in scientific research and demonstrate their learning, discoveries, research, and innovations.

Training educators provides an opportunity to deepen instructional practices for all students.  It assists in establishing models for STEM teaching and learning that can equate to a competitive advantage for our youth in their ongoing pursuits for college and career readiness.  Our Arizona teachers need the professional development to engage in the very models of learning to increase their confidence as well as their competence in teaching practices.  The benefit will be students who are able to engage with a higher cognitive demand of questioning, investigating, researching, developing solutions, testing, analyzing, and communicating results and next steps to continue to solve the challenges of our world.


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Every year, people visit their physician for their annual wellness exam. This typically involves a blood screening where a lab draws two to three vials of blood from the patient. This blood then undergoes a series of tests for cholesterol, sugar levels, and other biochemical factors that contribute to the overall health of the patient. Additionally, the patient has to wait weeks to receive the results of these tests. Wouldn’t it be amazing if all of these tests could be accomplished with a single drop of blood and be ready in minutes? Scientists are working on ways to make this happen using what they call “a lab on a chip.” The idea is that a single drop of blood is wicked through channels on the chip which contain all of the detectors from the usual battery of tests found in a typical blood screening. The lab on a chip could also be used to rapidly diagnose diseases or other conditions. In the battle against cancer, this could be particularly groundbreaking since early detection often ensures more successful treatment. This amazing new technology is not yet commercially available but it could someday!

lab chip

Many scientists around the world are working towards developing these advanced pieces of technology. The University of Alberta has developed a chip that can screen for chromosome mutations that cause cancer while the London Centre for Nanotechnology has developed a chip that can detect HIV in a blood sample. With all of the buzz that has surrounded these devices, some ethical questions have been raised as well. For example, once developed, who will have access to these chips and who would be allowed to view or use the results and information produced by the chip?  As with any new technology, these are issues that we as public consumers will have to address.

To learn more about the cool innovations produced by nanoscientists visit Arizona Science Center and  attend our NanoDays celebrations on March 29 and April 5, 2014 or visit http://www.whatisnano.org for more information about nanotechnology.

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Leather, there isn’t a whole lot to it, is there?  Sure, it’s a bit of a luxury and tends to be on the more expensive side, but it has been with us for centuries, and it just seems to be a part of our lives as humans.  Our predecessors, i.e. prehistoric humans, used animal hides for clothes and blankets, for tents and shelter, for tools and other instruments, etc.  Ancient civilizations used leather to make armor, shields, and other military equipment for soldiers.

However, did you know that human leather exists?  That’s right, leather fashioned from the tanning of human skin.  No, we don’t mean the Jersey Shore “gym, tan, laundry” sort of tanning.  We mean tanning, the process of creating leather by use of tannins, the chemicals found in plants that permanently alter and strengthen the protein structures of skins and hides.  This might sound like a horror movie, but we assure you that we not selling tickets to a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movie.  If any animal skin can be used to create leather, then it stands to reason that human skin can be used as well.  In fact, the Ekoi people in Nigeria and Cameroon use masks made from human skin during funeral ceremonies.  The tsantsa, or shrunken heads, of the Shuar people in Ecuador and Peru are boiled in tannins during the process of shrinking, ultimately making a shrunken head leather.  According to Thomas Carlyle, historian and author of “The French Revolution: A History,” it was rumored that at the château de Meudon the skin from people who had been executed by guillotine was tanned and used to make leather clothes.  Human skin has also been used to bind and cover books.  For instance, William Burke, a murderer who sold the bodies of his victims to a doctor to be dissected, was executed and was himself publicly dissected in 1828.  Today, his skeleton is displayed in the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomy Museum, and a pocketbook that is bound and covered by his skin is on display at Surgeons’ Hall Museum. Even today, a company in the UK claims to legally make and sell leather products crafted from human skin that they legally acquired from donors who bequeath their skin to the company after the donor dies.


Whatever the case may be, we might start considering vinyl a bit more seriously, at least for a little while.

leather book

Discover more unbelievable facts at “The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!®” at Arizona Science Center through May 4, 2014!


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The Art360 series, part of Adults’ Night Out, continues on April 4 with artist Dean Reynolds. See our interview with him below.

Q: How would you describe your art?
A: My work is a combination of my interests in science fiction, fantasy, myths, fables, fairy tales, surrealism with biology and genetics mixed in. You could say that its Sigmund Freud meets Lewis Carroll meets the Wizard of Oz. It is my take on the contemporary world, the magic and strangeness of the life we live today. It’s a window to my world.

Q: Where does your greatest inspiration come from?
A: There is a moment when an idea comes to me; this moment may be when it’s late in the evening, or walking to the store. It is a mere impression, a sort of hazy image that appears in my mind and I sketch to put it down. The image is like a seed that I have no idea what it will really look like only that it will have certain characteristics. In a way that a tree is planted and will have certain things that you know will be there but as it grows follows its own logic. There might be an image that jumps out or there might be one that has been floating around my mind for some time. These things find the right time to reveal themselves. To give it life there, it is a dance of me building and creating and the work telling me where it wants to go. The inspiration is the mixture of that which is around me, stories and images of the past and the mysterious internal impulses that seem to produce a seed-like idea that I must bring into the world.

Q: What is your favorite piece and why?
A: If I may I will choose two pieces just to be interesting. The first would be Demelza of the East, the image of the woman all in black posed in an environment of candy plants and small animals around her feet. Around her floats these dots like bubbles from a grand bubble machine. A halo of golden petals emanated from behind her head. The other is the woman walking the three headed giraffe with jackrabbit heads. She is near a tree with a smiling face on it and around the path are strange plants, mushrooms with eyes, plants with human like noses. The reason I pick those two is that each represent the direction that my work is going and where I am thinking.
The first, of Demelza, is the great breakthrough as an artist. There I began to realize that I have the imaginative power to create any environment, to inhabit it with people and creatures. This is the beginning of the idea of the window to this world that I invite the viewer to not just enjoy but to imagine themselves into.
The second, The Walker, is where I have begun to master or at least approach mastery of this creative work. Here I bring both a real subject, the woman, into a fantastical but substantial world. I worked to understand the way giraffes look and walk, what a jack rabbit head looks like. Here I mixed the two together to create a new creature that is both mythical but also a reality of genetic manipulation today. This work is where I will be hopefully heading towards. The greater and greater ability to bring imagination, the real, and the understanding of possibilities together and to make them live in a visual sense.
Also, the two women who are the subjects of the paintings are close to my heart and dear to me as friends. I cannot help it when I feel a little affectionate when I look at those two works.

Q: Do you think that science influences your work at all? If so, how?
A: I would say it is tangential. It is rather like a car or cell phone, enhancing the way we can do things but not defining what one is or does. That being said I think of the vast information and knowledge that all areas of science have brought to us. It seems that every year the world and the universe we live in gets bigger but also stranger, more bizarre but also the fantastic invention of what is out there is truly the greatest teacher for me as an artist.
Who could have conceived of dinosaurs? Dragons, as awesome as we humans could conceive, cannot come close to the inventive genius of nature when you think of those creatures. Think of the life that might be discovered on other planets. What will they look like? Who knows and who could really accurately guess? When explorers journeyed to the depths of the ocean there was life, strange and brilliant thriving.
So I will contradict what I said in the first paragraph. I am not a scientist and it all sometimes seems beyond me. But therein lies the artist in me who takes what I see and lets it germinate. Biology is something that I have a little understanding of. I do know that it is about life creating, changing and living. Life is always mutating and changing. We change and we also change the environment we live in which changes ourselves in the process. Life is inventive, changing the structure of things over time. I take what I see or what is discovered and let that be part of what I do.

Q: Do you think that science will continue to influence your work in the future and in what ways?
A: I am certain that it will. How, I do not know but I can speculate, and what a foolish endeavor that can be. I am certain as new knowledge comes from further investigation of everything we will be even more taken aback and humbled. I think of what might be found on other planets, Mars for example. If there is some form of microscopic organism what will it look like and how does it survive? Will there be new life discovered on this planet? A new species? What will it look like? Will there be a new dinosaur unearthed and what will that look like!? Will any of that change what I do? I must conclude with the idea that I have no idea what will change in my work but it will be affected in some way by what new discoveries will be found.

Q: How do you think that having your art displayed on such a large surface like the Planetarium dome will influence your work and the viewer’s perception of your work?
A: I am a little nervous about it all. I work in a way that is centered on the human scale.  I have no idea what to expect or how it will look on such a large surface. Will it be lost on such a large format or will it make it even more effective? I do work in a way that is about details, lots and lots of details. My paintings are about getting someone to come up to the work, to get close, to see all the details. It is about getting a viewer to enter in. This way of displaying my paintings and drawings might make the work even more inviting.

Visit Arizona Science Center, April 4 to meet Dean Reynolds and explore his work in a unique and immersive experience as it comes to life on the dome of the Dorrance Planetarium! 

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Old myth claims that four leaf clovers hold the luck of the Irish, though this parable likely came about because of the rareness of a four leaf clover. Although unsure, geneticists think a clover may sport a fourth leaf due to a rare genetic mutation in the clover plant or possibly a recessive gene. How this leaf trait is inherited has perplexed geneticists for many years.

There are nearly 300 different species of clover genus Trifolium with Trifolium repens, or white clover, being the most common in North America. Clover genus Trifolium are so named because the plants typically have three leaves or leaflets (tri=three).  More fantastically, the clover’s leaflets are said to each represent a trait: faith, hope, love, and if a fourth leaflet is present, it is said to represent luck.

Occasionally the genetics of the clover result in the rare four leaf clover although sometimes clovers can have even more than four leaflets. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most leaves ever found on a clover stem was 56 and was found by Shigeo Obara in May 2009.

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We’re not talking about the superhero Batman, with all his high tech gear and incessant need to battle evil. Although this man could be seen as a hero, he is quite different from Bruce Wayne. His name is Daniel Kish, a man who became blind as an infant and taught himself at a young age to use human echolocation.


Echolocation is used by several animals including bats, dolphins, whales, some shrews, and a couple species of birds. Echolocation is used by emitting sound into the environment.  That sound is then broken down into waves that bounce off nearby objects creating echoes. The echoes allow the person or animal to gauge how far away an object is and how big it is.

Kish uses echolocation by producing a sound with his tongue against the roof of his mouth which creates a kind of clicking noise. This click is very effective because it emits a sharp and clean sound that is ideal for echolocation.  He can’t click 200 times a second or sense objects as small as a gnat like bats can, but his clicking has proven to work very well and is incredibly useful. He can detect objects about the size of a softball. He can also distinguish the position, size, texture, and density of the object.  Using this skill he can take part in activities he enjoys such as hiking, mountain biking and playing ball.


Echolocation is not exactly a new thing. Those who are blind have used it for a while now by stomping their feet, snapping their fingers, or tapping their canes. The difference here is that Kish’s skill is one that can allow for greater mobility and more precise detection of the environment. When Kish clicks his tongue, it’s as if the world is answering back and telling him where everything is. It is laid out in somewhat of a visual mind map that he can use to understand his location and environment.

Kish is the president of World Access for the Blind, and with his organization he works to teach those who are visually impaired to use this skill. As humans we are not born with a natural ability to echolocate, but with time and practice it seems we can definitely learn how to refine this skill and use it to our advantage. This is not limited to those who are blind or vision impaired.  An hour or two of practice for about a month can develop basic skills for an average person. According to National Geographic, this skill could be taught to firefighters and rescue workers to help in situations in which they would need to navigate through fog or smoke.

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