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In a recent study, scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta found that fire ants form seals so tight that not even water can get through. The researchers say it’s as though the bugs are weaving a waterproof fabric out of themselves. The ants on the bottom don’t drown, and the ants on the top stay dry. Working together, the ants float to safety — even though a single ant alone in the water will struggle to survive.

Fire ants are famous for their construction projects (as well as their burning bites). When they need to, colonies of these insects turn themselves into ladders, chains and walls. And when floodwaters rise, a colony can float to safety by making an unusual boat. The ants hold tightly to each other, forming a buoyant disk atop the water. The ant-raft may float for months seeking safe harbor.

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Fire ants and water don’t mix. The ant’s exoskeleton, or hard outer shell, naturally repels water. A drop of water can sit on top of the ant like a backpack.  When an ant does end up underwater, tiny hairs on its body can trap bubbles of air that give the bug a buoyancy boost.

But that’s just one ant. No matter how well it repels water, a single ant doesn’t explain how a whole colony stays afloat. To investigate the science behind the ant-raft, the Georgia Tech researchers went out and collected thousands of fire ants. The species the researchers collected was Solenopsis invicta, which is better known as the red imported fire ant, or RIFA.

The scientists placed hundreds or thousands of ants at a time in the water. A group of ants took about 100 seconds, on average, to build a raft. The researchers repeated the experiment multiple times. Each time, the ants organized themselves the same way, creating a raft about the size and thickness of a thin pancake. (The more ants, the broader the pancake.) The rafts were flexible and strong, staying together even when the researchers pushed the rafts underwater.

The scientists then froze the rafts in liquid nitrogen and studied them under powerful microscopes to figure out how the ants kept everyone safe and the water out.

The team found that some ants used their mandibles, or jaws, to bite other ants’ legs. Other ants joined their legs together. Thanks to these tight bonds, say the scientists, the ants did a better job at keeping the water away than any one ant could do on its own. By working together, thousands of ants can stay alive in the face of a crisis like a flood by using their own bodies to build a boat.

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While thousands looked to cross “Witness a Space Shuttle Launch” off their Bucket List, Endeavor Astronaut Catherine (Cady) Coleman knocked “Play with LEGO’s in Space” off NASA’s. This is not the first time Cady has made history in space, as she was also the first person to play a flute in space.

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Cady now gets to be the first Astronaut in History to experiment with Lego’s, in a microgravity environment, on STS 134. Astronauts will also and share results with teachers, students and classrooms via Lego Education beginning in September.

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Don’t forget to check out our exciting Summer Camps, including dates for LEGO specific camps. For more info on LEGO’s in space, visit the following links:

http://www.legospace.com/en-us/Default.aspx

http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2011/04/space-shuttle-endeavor-launches-tomorrow-with-a-special-payload/

http://gizmodo.com/5802503/these-are-the-first-lego-sets-ever-launched-into-space

 


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Fossils can connect children to the history of our planet. It allows them to simultaneously imagine how ancient life might have been, while examining current habitats and species that could become the fossils of the future. This fun activity from Kaboose.com let’s kid creative their very own fossils that can be ancient or modern!

What you'll need:
  • 1 cup of used coffee grounds
  • 1/2 cup of cold coffee
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • Wax paper
  • Mixing bowl
  • Some small objects to make impressions in the dough (Shaped cookie cutters work well.)
  • Empty can or a butter knife
  • Toothpicks, optional
  • String to hang your fossil, optional
How to make it:
  1. Stir the together the coffee grounds, cold coffee, flour, and salt until well mixed.
  2. Knead the dough together and then flatten it out onto the waxed paper.
  3. Use the can to cut out circles of the dough or use the dull knife to cut slabs large enough to fit your "fossil" objects.
  4. Press your objects firmly into the dough. When you take the object out, you have your "fossil". If you want to hang the fossil, poke holes into the edge to hold the string.
  5. Let the fossil dry overnight (and up to two days) and then hang it if you wish.
Tips:

To reduce the drying time, bake the fosils for a short period of time.

Baked_Fossils


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National Geographic reports that exotic plants may make your yard look beautiful but in the long run they will cause harm to our ecosystems. Dr. Doug Tallamy an entomologist (insect expert) at the University of Delaware explains why having only plants native to your area is so important.

Ever since non-native people started to arrive on America's shores, they've carried along with them trees, flowers, and vegetables from other places. Now there are so many of those outside plant species that they are crowding out the native plants that have lived here since before settlers arrived. This may not seem like too much of an issue until you consider the fact that the type of plants has an impact on other living things in the environment, like insects and animals.

Think of it as a web, which starts with the plants, goes to the insects, and ends with birds. Almost all the plant-eating insects in the United States—90% of them—are specialized, which means they eat only certain plants. When those certain plants aren’t available for the bugs to eat anymore the insects die off. In turn, insects are the food source of birds and when the insect population drops so does the bird population.

Dr. Tallamy points out that, "we cannot let the plants and animals around us disappear," and, "the way to preserve them is to give them food to eat. But when we plant non-native plants, we are clobbering the food web, because then we don't have the insects the birds need to live."

What can you do to help this situation? It’s simple! "Just Google 'native plants' and your location, and you can find out which plants really belong where you live," says Tallamy. He also suggests getting your children involved with the planting process or even having them, “adopt a bird species in trouble and see if [they] can't plant some things that will attract the insects they need."

Milkweed

Photo Above: Milkweed is a flower native to Central Florida. Monarch butterfly caterpillars dine on Milkweed. A small milkweed patch planted in Spring can produce beautiful Monarch butterflies in the Summer!


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Come See What Makes You Uniquely You

Saturday, May 7, 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

ORLANDO, FL - May 3, 2011 - Discover the surprising similarities in our human blueprints during a day of DNA at the Orlando Science Center on Saturday, May 7! Thanks to the support of the National Human Genome Research Institute, the Orlando Science Center presents its first ever Annual DNA Day Celebration! Learn all about this amazing molecule during this day-long event featuring activities, speakers, tours and presentations that explore DNA through four basic ideas: health, research, everyday life, and careers.

See your own genetic blueprint and add your own imprint to the Orlando Science Center’s real-time, growing virtual helix. Witness genetic science unwrap a 3000 year old forensic case in Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs on the giant screen of the Dr. Phillips CineDome. Tour the exhibition of DNArt where several staff members have poured their blood, sweat and cheek swabs into these personal portraits. Also, check out DNA art from local VIPs, including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. Plus, create genetic jewelry, including bracelets and pendants representing your own DNA.

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High School Freshman Takes Home Top Science Prize

15 Year-Old Whiz Kid Wins 13th Annual Orlando Science Center Competition

Orlando, FL - May 1, 2011 - Kristen Clayton, a 15 year-old freshman from Brevard County’s Viera High School and a first time participant in the Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition took home the top prize during the awards ceremony on Sunday, May 1. Clayton takes home a trophy, a $5,000 cash scholarship plus $1,000 awards each for her science teacher and her school. For more than a decade, Philanthropist, Scientist and Entrepreneur Dr. Nelson Ying has hosted this competition in collaboration with the Orlando Science Center to encourage the outstanding scientific accomplishments of our community’s teens.

Clayton’s research concerns a rapidly growing aquatic plant named Lemna minor and its potential for use in the production of ethanol fuel. Her work allows the plant to absorb large amount of phosphates and nitrates from the water, which helps reduce algae growth while allowing the plant to attain its maximum starch content. This result makes Lemna minor ideal feedstock for ethanol production.

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Academy Award®-winning team brings younger audience into the fold

Premieres Saturday, May 14, 2011

Orlando, FL - April 27, 2011 - Animalopolis, the first film for giant screen theaters to include children as young as three-years-old in the target audience, is coming to the Orlando Science Center on May 14, 2011 for screenings in the Dr. Phillips CineDome throughout the summer. Directed by award-winning Tim Huntley, and produced by Graphic Films’ Paul Novros, Animalopolis breaks new ground as a giant screen documentary balancing the cinematic interests of the entire family.

The film takes a lighthearted and imaginary look at a variety of animals including cheetahs that race like a Ferrari, bears that run their own fishing school, an operatic lion, scary crabs that hold a town hostage and even attempt to cuddle with children, and much more. It will provide audiences with a journey of smiles and chuckles. Whether going nose to nose with hippos as they graze upon nature's massive salad bar, or eye to eye with dancing bears, sea lions turning somersaults, or an otter that prays, audiences are reminded that nature provides us with humor and wonder, everywhere.

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Orlando Science Center • 777 E. Princeton Street • Orlando, Florida 32803 • Phone: 407.514.2000 • Toll Free: 888.OSC.4FUN • Email: [email protected]
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