How to Demonstrate Static Electricity and Shock Your Friends

Learn a phantom-tastic physics lesson while you learn how to demonstrate static electricity! 

How do you make a tissue dance? You put a little boo-gie in it!

Static electricity is electricity that doesn’t move. You’ve experienced static electricity if you’ve ever rubbed your feet on a carpet and then zapped a friend or sibling.

Let us teach you how to demonstrate static electricity, and put a little boogie in tissue paper ghosts to make them dance in this fun and simple science activity.

Materials you will need:

  • Tissue
  • Black marker
  • Scissors
  • Clear tape
  • A balloon
tissue paper, scissors, marker, tape, balloon- materials needed to demonstrate static electricity

Directions:

Step 1:

Carefully separate the layers of your tissue and pull them apart. We want our tissue paper to be very thin for this activity.

separate toilet paper for static electricity demonstration

Step 2:

Draw ghosts on your tissue pieces then cut them out.

cut out ghosts

Step 3:

Tape the bottom of each ghost to your work surface with clear tape.

tape ghosts to floor

Step 4:

Blow up a balloon then rub it against your hair or against wool. A fluffy wool sweater or blanket will work!

  • While you work on your experiment,  ask your scientist some questions: 
    • Before you hold your balloon over the ghosts, ask your scientist what you think will happen. This called a hypothesis.
    • What happened when you rubbed the balloon against your hair or with wool?
    • What do you think would happen if we didn’t pull the tissue apart?
create static electricity

Step 5:

Hold your balloon 3-4 inches above your ghosts and move it around to make them rise up from the grave and dance!
*If nothing happens right away, try moving the balloon closer to the ghosts or rubbing the balloon again.

Take the experiment further:

  • How many ghosts can you lift up at once?
  • How far away can you hold the balloon from the ghosts and still make them move?
  • What happens if you use different thicknesses of paper? What about different types of paper? Why do you think some types and thicknesses of paper work better than others?
how to demonstrate static electricity

Expand on the Activity! 

Learn more about static electricity

  • Electricity is a form of energy that powers our electronics like our TVs, computers, light bulbs, and more.

  • Static electricity is electricity that doesn’t move. You’ve experienced static electricity if you’ve ever rubbed your feet on a carpet and then zapped a friend or sibling, if you’ve ever zapped yourself touching a doorknob, or if you’ve ever seen lightening before.

  • Electricity is created by teeny tiny particles called protons and electrons. Protons are positively charged, while electrons are negatively charged. Just like magnets, opposites attract. So the positive protons and negative electrons attract each other!

  • When you rubbed the balloon with the cloth, you built up a negative charge on the balloon by adding electrons to it. Our little tissue paper ghosts are positive, so they were attracted to the balloon. This causes them to rise up!

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What is an automata? Marvel at this DIY machine in motion!

What is an automata? Check out this simple way to make a simple machine! 

Automata-who? An automata is a playful way to explore simple machine elements such as cams, levers, and linkages, while creating mechanical sculpture. They’ve been around for hundreds of years, with stories about automatons all the way back in Greek mythology! You might have one in your own home if you have a moving bird inside a cuckoo clock. 

What is a simple machine? A simple machine is a non-motorized device that changes the direction or magnitude of a force, for example, an inclined plane, wedge, lever, pulley, or automata.

Today you will be working with Cams and Cam Followers which is a form of the wheel and axel. Rather than making a bicycle wheel turn, we will be creating more of a gear-driven movement.

This is a really fun Maker activity that you can try at home to help understand what is an automata. Use this project to explore simple machines, like wheels and axles, and your critical thinking skills and creativity to make your project move. Let’s get making!

Materials you will need:

  • Cardboard frame 
  • Cardboard scraps 
  • Drinking straw
  • Scissors 
  • Skewer sticks
  • Foam sheet 
  • Washer
  • Masking tape
  • Hot Glue Gun 
  • Materials for decoration

Directions:

Step 1:

Add support to your frame.

  • Cut triangles out of the cardboard scraps and tape them into each corner of the frame for support.
add support to your automata frame

Step 2:

Plan out your automata. Think about what you want your automata to depict. Some start by choosing their motion first and going from there. 

  • Round and Round
  • Up/Down and Round and Round 
  • Back and Forth and Up and Down
    • Pay close attention to the placements of the cam and cam follower

Step 3:

Create the cams 

  • Draw your cam and cam follower in the upper left-hand corner of the foam sheet. 
  • Make sure to draw it as close to the edge as possible
  • It’s important to cut the cams smoothly and make sure your cam follower is a little bigger than your cam.
choose a motion your automata (1)

Step 4:

Get a handle on your automata

  • Cut a rectangular piece of cardboard and hot glue the cardboard to the skewer
add a handle

Step 5:

Add the axle to the frame 

  • Put your cam on the axle inside the frame. 
  • Start the holes in the frame using the nail, and make sure the cam clears the top and bottom of the frame.
add an axel

Step 6:

Add the cam follower

  • Poke a hole in the top of the frame where you want your cam follower to be located. 
  • Cut the straw so it’s about 4 cm long, and then insert it into the hole you just made. 
  • Hot glue the straw in place.
  • Put a skewer stick through the straw and attach your cam follower to the bottom end of the stick. 
  • Glue the cam follower in place.
add an axel

Step 7:

Test it! 

  • Adjust your cam under the cam follower until you get the motion you like. 
  • If the cam follower does not fall on the cam, attach a washer to add a little weight. 
  • If the cam does not stay in place on the axle, add a small dab of hot glue to hold the cam in place.
test your automata

Step 8:

Last, but not least, it's time to decorate your automata! 

Design your automata

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How to Make Bath Fizzers • Explore Science While you Scrub-a-Dub-Dub

Add some science to your self-care by learning how to make bath fizzers! 

We’re bubbling over with excitement to teach you how to make bath fizzers! With some materials you can buy at the grocery store and a few steps, you can make your own bath fizzers at home.

This recipe is customizable, so you can add whatever color or scent you like, as well as additional treats such as dried flower petals or biodegradable glitter to your DIY bath fizzers. 

Materials you will need:

  • ½ cup baking soda
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ cup citric acid
    • Citric acid can be purchased in the canning department of Walmart, some craft stores, and online through retailers like Amazon.
  • ¼ cup Epsom salt
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon coconut oil
  • 5-10 drops of scented oil if you would like your bath fizzer to have a scent
  • 1-2 drops of food coloring if you would like your bath fizzer to have a color
  • A large bowl
  • A small bowl
  • Whisk
  • A mold
    • You can use bath fizzer molds, muffin tins, or even plastic cups to shape your bath fizzer.
Materials for hot to make bath fizzers

 Ready to make your own? Watch along or follow the written steps below!

Watch this clip of WESH 2 News’ Adrian Whitsett creating his own moon sand at the Orlando Science Center. After making the moon sand, Whitsett participated in an activity to show how craters are made. With small rocks he was able to make large indents to recreate an asteroid knocking into the moon!

Are you ready to explore the moon, astronaut?

Directions:

Step 1:

Add the baking soda, citric acid, cornstarch, and Epsom salt to the large bowl. Whisk to combine the ingredients and remove clumps. Set the large bowl aside.

how to make bath fizzers

Step 2:

Melt coconut oil and add water, scented oil, and food coloring to the small bowl. Mix them together.

*Coconut oil melts with very little heat, so microwaving for a few seconds or heating the measured amount on a stove over low heat will melt it quickly.

customize your bath fizzers

Step 3:

Now, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients a little bit at a time, whisking continually to combine. If the mixture fizzes excessively, you are adding the liquid too fast. You should end up with a slightly damp mixture that has started to clump together and resembles wet sand.

combine all the ingredients in your bath fizzers

Step 4:

Pack the mixture into your mold. If you are using a spherical mold, press the two halves together. Carefully remove the mold so it has room to expand. Let the fizzer dry on a foil-lined baking sheet. Fizzers are usually dry after 8 hours.

put bath fizzers in a mold

The Science: Acid-Base Reactions

Now that you've learned how to make bath fizzers, check out the science behind it!

If you’ve ever made a baking soda and vinegar volcano, you’ve seen a type of chemical reaction called an acid-base reaction. As vinegar (the acid) and baking soda (the base) mix together and react, they fizz and make an eruption of bubbles. This is exactly what’s happening in your bath fizzers, but with slightly different ingredients.

In bath fizzers baking soda is still the base, but citric acid is the acid instead of vinegar. Since both citric acid and baking soda are dry, they have to be dissolved in water to react. Once they’re dropped in the water together, they react and fizz, creating the bubbles you see in your bath fizzer. The bubbles carry any scent in the bath fizzer to the surface of the water, making the bath smell nice.

Cornstarch is the other main ingredient in all bath fizzers, but it isn’t an acid or base. It’s used for several different reasons. It helps keep the baking soda and citric acid from reacting when adding the liquid ingredients, it binds all of the ingredients together, it helps to thicken and harden the bath fizzer, and acts as a non-reactive dry “filler” that slows down the reaction and makes the fizzing last longer.

Expand on the Activity! 

Learn More Chemistry

  • pH is a measurement of how acidic or basic something is. It is measured on a scale of 0-14.
  • A substance with a pH of 7 (like distilled water) is neutral. A substance with a pH of less than 7 is an acid. The closer the number gets to zero, the stronger the acid is. A substance with a pH of more than 7 is a base. The closer the number is to 14, the stronger the base is.
  • There are several different definitions of acids and bases in chemistry.
  • A simple chemical definition of an acid is a substance that releases hydrogen ions (H+) when dissolved in water. A simple chemical definition of a base is a substance that makes hydroxide ions (OH-) when dissolved in water or a substance that takes hydrogen ions from an acid.
  • Ions are positively (+) or negatively (-) charged particles of an element.

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Are Pterodactyls Dinosaurs? Learn More About These Prehistoric Predators

These pterrific facts will help you answer the popular question of whether pterodactyls are dinosaurs!

Pterodactyls, the common name for pterosaurs, are an extinct group of winged reptiles. There was a genus of pterosaur called Pterodactylus – which is where the word “pterodactyl” comes from – but not all pterosaurs belong to this genus.   

Are pterosaurs birds, dinosaurs, or mammals? The answer? D: none of the above! Because they flew and their front limbs stretch out to the sides, they are not dinosaurs. Instead, they’re a distant dinosaur cousin.

 

Pterosaurs lived from the late Triassic Period to the end of the Cretaceous Period, when they went extinct along with dinosaurs. Pterosaurs were carnivores, feeding mostly on fish and small animals. Many had hooked claws and sharp teeth that they used to grab their prey.

Pterosaurs evolved into dozens of individual species. Some were as large as F-16 fighter jets, while others were as small as paper airplanes.

They were also the first animals after insects to evolve powered flight. This means they didn’t just leap into the air or glide but flapped their wings to generate lift.

However, not all pterosaurs could fly. Pterodactylus flew using wings formed by a tough, thin membrane stretching along their bodies to their elongated fourth finger.  

Pterodactyls are carnivores

 

Like birds, pterosaurs had lightweight, hollow bones. Pterosaur skeletons survive as fossils only when their bodies came to rest in a very protected environment. Most pterosaur remains come from species that lived near the ocean or sea.  

Many Pterodactylus fossils are preserved in Bavaria, Germany. During the Jurassic period, the region was a swampy wetland at the edge of an ancient sea. Organisms that washed into the wetland became buried in the mud. This mud slowly hardened into limestone and the bones fossilized.  

Pterodactyls dinosaur fossil

While Pterodactyls are not classified as dinosaurs, they still have a lot in common with other prehistoric predators, and we still have much to learn about them. The rarity of fossils leaves major gaps in our knowledge about pterosaurs. How did they evolve flight? Why did they vanish? What exactly did they look like? Maybe one day you’ll help find answers to these questions! 

Expand on the activity! 

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Support Your Science Center • Ways to Help OSC and Local Businesses in Tough Times

Now more than ever, we need your help! Check out a few ways to support your Science Center and the Central Florida community.

Orlando Science Center has been open since June 15 after having been closed for the prior three months. Most of our revenue-generating programs were canceled or postponed during that time.
 
We have modified our experience with new health and safety guidelines, which includes limiting occupancy. Since summer is historically our busiest time of the year, these changes, and the current situation, greatly restrict our ability to recover these lost funds.
 
We need your help to keep the Science Center moving full STEAM ahead.
 
We know everyone is facing challenges right now, but if you are able to support Orlando Science Center through any of the following ways, we would be so grateful.

Get, gift, or renew a membership

We've got fun down to a science! Orlando Science Center members receive a multitude of benefits including unlimited general admission and parking, discounts on food and beverages, merchandise, camp programs, special events, and more! 

Already a member? Consider gifting or renewing a membership! Members receive a 10% discount on gifted memberships and early renewals. 

Support Orlando Science Center with membership

Come Say Hi! 

Whether you stay for a while or your visit is brief, there is plenty to SEA and do with educational movies, fun science demos, and meeting our animal ambassadors! Check out these upcoming events: 

  • Pompeii: The Immortal City- Through artwork, artifacts, interactive mechanical devices, and multimedia experiences, you will embark on a journey through time into the daily life of a first-century Roman town.
  • Kids Night at the Museum- Caregivers are invited to drop their youths ages 5 - 12 at OSC to explore exhibits, experience enhanced programming, and enjoy dinner and a film. Safety guidelines include age-appropriate small groups, social distancing, and masks. Caregivers can enjoy a stress and child-free evening. 
Visit OSC

Make a donation

Your support of Orlando Science Center, a nonprofit serving Central Florida for over 60 years, improves science knowledge, breaks down barriers to access, and creates prosperity in our community for generations to come.

Help us accomplish our mission to inspire science learning for life by donating below or by texting STEM to 243725.

 

Spread the Word

Help us spread the word by sharing this message with your friends and family.

Orlando Science Center is here to inspire science learning for life.

Whether it’s an A-HA moment on the exhibit floor or the satisfaction of building a bridge out of straws that holds up under intense weight, these interactions with the Science Center change us. 

Our world is facing extraordinary and complex challenges – from saving our natural world, to curing deadly diseases, to space travel, and beyond. The only way to solve these critical issues is through the power of education. The future holds unlimited possibilities and we are so proud to partner with you on this journey of learning, providing opportunities to create, explore, and invent together.

Thank you for your trust, unwavering support, and continued investment. We simply couldn’t do it without you!

Painting Techniques for Kids to Try • From Baking Soda Paint to Buon Fresco

Using science and creativity, these painting techniques for kids to try will elicit a reaction from your friends and your art! 

1,941 years ago, a catastrophic event occurred in Pompeii, a city on the Italian peninsula. A volcano called Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered the whole city in ash! 

The site was lost for centuries and remained almost entirely untouched until 1748. Today, scientific research brings to light the extraordinary history and culture of Pompeii and the Roman world. Learn how to create a fizzing work of art or a Buon Fresco with these Roman- inspired painting techniques for kids to try.

Using the DIY baking soda paint you just created, you can now make an erupting volcano painting!

Materials you will need:

  • Red or orange baking soda paint
    *Learn how to make your own here!
  • A tray or a small container to put the baking soda paint in
  • A small cup
  • A dropper (if you do not have on you can use drips from your paintbrush)
  • White vinegar (you can add pigment to the vinegar, but it is not necessary)
  • A cup of water
  • A paintbrush or two
  • Watercolor or mixed media paper -Watercolor pencils or paint (colored pencils or markers will work too, but not crayon)
materials for painting technique for kids to try

Follow along with the video or the steps below to try this painting technique!

Directions:

  • Step One: Draw your volcano. A volcano is a mountain that lets magma or molten rock escape from under the Earth’s crust to the surface where it comes out as lava. The molten rock makes its way up the main vent of the volcano. Some volcanoes have side vents where lava will flow out the side instead of the top. At the top of the volcano is the crater, this is where most of the lava will come out, sometimes it flows and sometimes there’s a big eruption. Not all volcanoes erupt with lava, some, like Mount Vesuvius erupt with ash, but our painting today will have lava. Right not we are just drawing the mountain that will be our volcano.
  • Step Two: Fill in the background. I added plants and the sun and made the sky blue. When you are done with this step the whole scene should be complete, except the lava. In Pompeii there were marketplaces, houses, courtyards, and bathhouses- you can add some of them to your scene too!
  • Step Three: For watercolor pencils, this step turns the pencil marks into paint. Dip your paintbrush in clean water and paint on the pencil marks with the water, you will see the marks turn into paint. Make sure to rinse your brush between colors.
  • Step Four: This step adds your lava! Use a clean brush and your baking soda paint. The paint will be a little chunky because the baking soda doesn’t dissolve. Paint your lava on your volcano.
  • Step Five: Watch your volcano erupt! Using the dropper, drip the vinegar one drop at a time onto your lava. What happens? A little goes a long way, take your time and watch it bubble and flow. When the vinegar touches the baking soda, it starts a chemical reaction. The chemical reaction releases a gas and creates the bubbles you see. Once you’ve watched your eruption, leave your painting in the same spot to dry- moving it will make the lava drip off the page.

Learn more! 

  • Were you inspired by your baking soda painting technique? Try creating a Buon Fresco, a popular art technique common in Ancient Rome!
  • If you want to learn more about volcanoes and Pompeii follow the links below:
    • https://www.natgeokids.com/uk/discover/geography/physical-geography/volcano-facts/ 
    • https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/history/pompeii/
Thanks to the support from Orange County Government through the Arts & Cultural Affairs, Orlando Science Center is excited to host the blockbuster exhibit, Pompeii: The Immortal City in the Fall of 2020.
 
Orlando Science Center is excited to support partnership programs and collaborations leading up to and coinciding with the run of the exhibition.
 

Students from UCF CREATE Lake Eola Charter School will participate in the Pompeii program where they will learn the science of how frescos are created and work collaboratively to create fresco paintings.

If you would like more STEAM Lessons like these, learn how to enroll in the free public STEAM Art Making with Miss A online Canvas course.

How to Fold a Paper T.rex: Origami Dinosaur DIY

DINO-mite project alert! Learn how to fold a paper T.rex!

Watch the video below to learn how to fold a paper T. rex! You’ll have a rawr-ing good time making them and playing with them. We just hope your arms are longer than a T. rex’s.   

Materials you will need:

  • A square piece of paper or a piece of paper you can turn into a square. We recommend using one that is at least 6 in x 6 in.
  • Learn how to use any paper for origami paper here.

Try a T.rex

Once you've got or cut your 6 in x 6 in origami paper, follow along with the steps to make your origami dinosaur. While you're learning how to fold a paper T.rex, consider the following: 

  • Can you name three facts about a Tyrannosaurus rex? 
  • What is one question you have about dinosaurs? 
  • How many different dinosaurs can you name?

Expand on the activity! 

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Popular Science Myths Debunked • Clearing Up Misconceptions

Can you tell if these popular science myths are science fact or fiction? 

Orlando Science Center would like to clear the air on a few things. Somehow a few misconceptions have seeped their way into science culture. We would like to explore some of these popular science myths and explain why they are false by using scientific facts.

 

Cracking your knuckles frequently increases your chance of developing arthritis in your hands.

Popular science myths cracking knuckles

While cracking your knuckles may be annoying for those around you, it has no correlation to arthritis in those joints. Several studies that aimed to find a link between the two found no substantial evidence of any correlation. However, those who excessively cracked their knuckles did have slightly weaker grip strength later in life.

This makes sense though - knuckle cracking is a bubble being formed and popped by the liquid that surrounds your knuckle joints. It causes no trauma to these areas that would accelerate the onset of inflammation to these joints, which is what arthritis is.

 

Toilets flush in opposite directions depending on which side of the equator you find yourself on.

Toilet Flush popular science myth

The popular science myths that toilets flushes or other small movements of water move in different directions is often credited to something called the Coriolis Effect. The Coriolis Effect is a pattern of deflection that things that are not firmly connected to the earth but travel long distances across the planet. Since the earth rotates faster at the equator than at the polar poles, objects will appear to rotate to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere. This is why hurricanes spin in opposite directions in the two hemispheres.

However, the Coriolis Effect only influences things moving great distances of long periods of time on earth, not a 5 second toilet flush. If you want to see the Coriolis Effect in action, grab a buddy, get on a merry-go-round, and toss a ball while it’s stationary. Then spin it and toss the ball again. You will see the ball appears to curve, but in fact the ball is traveling in a straight line. It is you who is moving due to the spin of the merry-go-round.

 

Lightning never strikes the same place twice.

lightning can never strike twice science misconception

The idea that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice is a popular misconception but, that’s all it is- a misconception. We know this to be true as lightning strikes are too frequent to not strike the same place on earth multiple times. Studies show that around 500 – 1000 lightning strikes happen globally every second! The Empire State Building was once used a lightning laboratory because the building is struck with lightning around 100 times a year.

The way lightning works supports the idea of multiple strikes. With negative charge collecting in the clouds and positive charge collecting on the ground, streamers (which are collections of electrons racing towards the positively charged ground) descend from the cloud to find the path of least resistance, and when the first one hits the ground 50,000 volts of electricity shoot up from the ground to the cloud following the streamer's path.

 

Bulls become angry when they see the color red.

popular science bull myth

The popular myths that bulls become angry when they see red, or are unsually violent animals, comes from the tradition of bullfighting, where a matador waves around a red cape, or a muleta, and the bull charges the cape with fervor.

However, it's not the color of the cape that angers the bull but it’s the movement of the cape. We know this based on many experiments with different colored capes being stationary and being moved and the bull favored movement over the color of the cape every time. We also know that bulls are actually red-green colorblind and would have a hard time distinguishing red from green, orange, and brown. 

 

A duck’s quack does not echo.

duck quack popular science myths

A duck’s quack not echoing is a myth that stems from the fact that it is simply very difficult to hear the echo. A reverberation chamber helps amplify echoes by giving sounds large reflective surfaces for the sound to bounce back on or echo off of. Using a reverberation chamber and waiting for a good quack is all you need to do to prove that a duck’s quack does indeed echo. But why is it so hard to hear a duck’s quack echo without this chamber?

Many reasons can contribute to creating an echo in the wild. A duck needs to have a large surface far enough away to reflect off of and the strength behind its quack to reach said surface and make it back to your ears at a volume that is loud enough for our ears to hear. A sudden change in volume is easier to hear than the way that a duck quacks - a fading in of volume and fading out of volume over the entire sound.

 

The north star is the brightest star in the night sky.

Sirius is the brightest star in the sky

The north star, or Polaris, is the star that is positioned right above the celestial pole. The celestial pole is the axis that the celestial sky rotates around, the point in the night sky that doesn’t move as the earth rotates, therefore showing true north.

Polaris is not the brightest in the night sky - not even close! Polaris is about 50th in terms of brightness. The brightest is the dog star, Sirius. Sirius comes from the Greek word Seirius, meaning, "searing" or "scorching, which is fitting as Sirius is so bright in the northern hemisphere! It is twice as bright as the next brightest star, Canopus.

 

The Great Wall of China is the only man-made thing visible from space.

 

Image to right: This photo of central Inner Mongolia, about 200 miles north of Beijing, was taken on Nov. 24, 2004, from the International Space Station. The yellow arrow points to an estimated location of 42.5N 117.4E where the wall is visible. The red arrows point to other visible sections of the wall.
Credit: NASA

great wall of china from space popular science myths

The Great Wall of China is certainly large, at 13,171 miles long! That’s thirteen times the distance from the Orlando Science Center to the Empire State Building! However, it is unable to be seen from space with just the unaided eye.

On November 24th, 2004, an astronaut named Leroy Chiao was determined to get a picture of the wall from space. With the aid of his camera’s lenses, he was able to capture the first picture of the Great Wall from space. So what things are able to be seen from space? From low earth orbit, astronauts have said they can see cities, major roadways, dams, and even airports. So why can’t they see the Great Wall? It’s all about color. The Great Wall of China is nearly the same color as the area surrounding it, so it's difficult to distinguish the wall from its surroundings.

 

Ostriches stick their heads into the ground when threatened.

ostrich

Contrary to the popular myth, Ostriches don’t stick their heads to the ground when they feel threatened. Their first instinct is to run, and they are fast! Ostriches can outrun most predators that they encounter in the wild. Their top speeds reach 43 miles per hour! If they can't run, they aren’t afraid to fight. An ostrich can kick with their clawed feet so hard they can easily take out a full-grown lion.

However, this myth did have an origin in ostrich behavior. Ostriches will lay down flat to play dead if they feel they can’t win the fight, this combined with their lightly colored head and neck makes it look as if they ostrich has buried its head into the earth.

 

Mice love cheese.

popular science myths mice love cheese

If you’re trying to capture a mouse, cheese isn’t necessarily the best thing to use as bait. While it is true that mice will eat cheese, it’s not necessarily true that they prefer or even like it. Mice will eat anything that has some sort of nutritional value, including cheese. However, studies show that given a choice, a mouse would pick a sweeter food choice like fruit or candy over cheese.

The popular science myths that mice, or other small animals, love cheese originated in medieval times when families didn’t have refrigerators. They hung meat from the ceiling and stored grain in silos, but cheese was simply wrapped in a thin layer of wax or cloth, making it much easier for rodents to find and eat the cheese. In fact, during the bubonic plague, it was common practice to forgo cheese in diets as to not attract mice because people thought they were attracted to it when, actually, it was just the easiest thing to find in an average house.

 

All dinosaurs went extinct by an asteroid hitting earth.

popular science myths dinosaur

We imagine that this one is shocking to hear, but the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs didn’t finish the job. The asteroid, or the K-T extinction event, that happened 65 million years ago wiped out about 80 percent of all plant and animal life on the planet. The effects of the asteroid and the winter fallout that occurred afterward killed all tetrapods (four-legged animals) that weighed over 50 pounds.

However, some small species of dinosaurs survived and evolved into modern-day birds. This is supported but fossils that have been found that are dated past the sedimentary layer of the K-T event. This is why scientists say birds are direct descendants of the dinosaurs. This event, however, did lead to many mammals evolving into larger and more complex species as, during the time of large meat-eating lizards, mammals tended to become meals. With ecological niches open due to the K-T event, mammals were able to evolve.

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How much do you know about our canine companions? Test your knowledge with these fun science facts about dogs!

Science Facts About Dogs: Unleash Fun Facts About Your Furry Friends!

Put your bee identification skills to the test.

Bee Identification Game: To Bee or Not to Bee

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Black Innovators in STEM Who Changed the World

You’ve probably heard of Einstein- now meet some of the lesser-known Black innovators in STEM fields. 

The history of STEM fields is full of amazing accomplishments. Names like Newton, Darwin, Hawking, Curie, and Goodall bring to mind incredible discoveries and inventions. But there are many Black innovators in STEM who's names we don’t mention as often and are usually ignored, even though they are associated with accomplishments that are no less impressive and important. The work of Black scientists, engineers, and mathematicians has led to game-changing discoveries and inventions. 
 
From inspirational “firsts” that changed the STEM field forever to those making their mark on the world today, here are 11 Black scientists, engineers, and mathematicians that you should know about. This list is in alphabetical order by last name and is by no means exhaustive. There are far too many important people to list in one post, and Black innovators in STEM who continue to undertake significant scientific research every day.

Dr. Stephon Alexander is a theoretical physicist and professor at Brown University who specializes in string theory and particle physics.

He co-invented a model that helps to explain the early expansion of the universe, served as the scientific advisor on Ava DeVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, and currently serves as the President of the National Society of Black Physicists.

As an accomplished saxophone player, Alexander also explores interconnections between music, physics, mathematics, and technology, topics he explores in his best-selling book, The Jazz of Physics.

Black innovators in STEM- Dr. Stephon Alexander

George Washington Carver, arguably the most famous Black scientist and inventor, was born into slavery.

He was accepted into Highland College in Kansas, but ultimately denied admission due to his race. He went on to be the first Black student at Iowa State Agricultural College, where he became known as a brilliant botanist (a scientist who studies plants). He is best known for coming up with over 100 uses for the peanut.

In addition, as the head of the Tuskegee Institute’s agricultural department, he also helped develop crops and agricultural methods that stabilized the livelihoods of many former slaves. He also contributed greatly to the education of Black Americans in universities and through mobile classrooms that brought lessons to farmers.

Black innovators in STEM- George Washington Carver

Dr. Marie M. Daly was a biochemist and the first Black woman to obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States.

She made several critical contributions to medicine, including the discovery of the relationship between high cholesterol and heart disease and conducting pioneering research into the effects of cigarette smoke on the lungs. Her work created a new understanding of how food, diet, and lifestyle can affect heart health.

In addition to her research, Daly taught biochemistry courses, advocated for getting Black students enrolled in medical schools and graduate science programs, and started a scholarship for minority students to study science at Queens College in New York.

Black innovators in STEM- M. Daly

Dr. Sylvester James Gates, Jr is a theoretical physicist known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory.

In 1984, he co-authored Superspace, the first comprehensive book on the topic of supersymmetry. Born the oldest of four children in Tampa, FL, Gates spent his teen years in Orlando, attending Jones High School—his first experience in a segregated African-American school. Comparing his own school's quality to neighboring white schools, "I understood pretty quickly that the cards were really stacked against us." Nevertheless, a course in physics established Gates' career interest in that field, especially its mathematical side. At his father's urging, he applied for admission to MIT and was accepted.

His doctoral thesis was the first at MIT on supersymmetry. Gates served on the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and is a past president of the National Society of Black Physicists. In 2013, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, becoming the first African-American theoretical physicist so recognized in its 150-year history. President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Science, the highest award given to scientists in the U.S., in 2013. He is an honorary member of Orlando Science Center’s Board of Trustees.

Dr. Sylvester James Gates, Jr

Dr. Aprielle Ericcson-Jackson is an award-winning aerospace engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and one of the most famous women working at NASA today.

Throughout her career at NASA Goddard, she has made many notable contributions, including as the projector manager for the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that has been orbiting the Moon since 2009.

She has been recognized as one of the Top 50 Minority Women in Science and Engineering by the National Technical Association and has received the NASA Goddard Honor Award for Excellence in Outreach, the Washington Award for engineering achievements that advance the welfare of mankind, and a Science Trailblazers award from the Black Engineers of the Year Award Conference.

Dr. Aprielle Ericcson-Jackson

Zora Neale Hurston – who grew up in Eatonville, Florida – was a renowned author and anthropologist.

She became a member of the Harlem Renaissance in New York. At Columbia University, she worked with Franz Boas, the Father of American Anthropology. As an anthropologist, she embedded herself in the communities she studied, focusing on and writing about the religious traditions, songs, and folklore of Black communities in Florida, Louisiana, Haiti, and Jamaica.

Her anthropological work influenced her fiction, most notably the classic and influential novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Her anthropological work was published in academic journals and books.

Zora Neale Hurston

Katherine Johnson was one of the famous Hidden Figures who worked at NASA and made the 1969 moon landing possible.

After working as a teacher in public schools, she joined NASA (then NACA) as a research mathematician in the Langley laboratory’s all-Black West Area Computing section. There, she analyzed data from flight tests and went onto do trajectory analysis for the first human spaceflight. In 1962, she used geometry for space travel and figured out the paths for spacecraft to orbit around Earth and land on the Moon. This led to an astronaut successfully orbiting around the Earth for the first time.

She continued to work for NASA, with her calculations helping to send astronauts to the Moon and back. When asked to name her greatest contribution to space exploration, she chose her calculations that helped synch Project Apollo’s Lunar Module with the lunar-orbiting Command and Service Module.

Katherine Johnson
Dr. Percy Julian was a pioneering chemist who made several game-changing discoveries.
 
He completed the first total synthesis of a chemical called physostigmine, which was used to treat glaucoma. He also discovered how to extract steroids from soybean oil and synthesize the hormones progesterone and testosterone from them, and then synthesized cortisone, which became used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, he invented Aero-Foam, which was widely used during World War II to put out oil and gas fires.
 
In 1973, he became the first Black chemist elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Chemical Society recognizes his synthesis of physostigmine as “one of the top 25 greatest achievements in the history of American chemistry.”
Dr. Percy Julian

Dr. Bruce Ovbiagele is a neurologist and professor at the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences.

His focus is on reducing the burden of stroke in the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa. He is particularly focused on improving outcomes for vulnerable populations – including ethnic minorities and military veterans – at risk for stroke, and oversees several National Institutes of Health-funded research programs to this effect. This includes the largest study of stroke in Sub-Saharan African to date.

As a professor, he has worked to train, mentor, and inspire people from groups who are under-represented in medicine. He has been appointed the Associate Dean of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Healthcare System and acts as their Chief of Staff.

Dr. Bruce Ovbiagele

Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum is a celebrated clinical psychologist, notable educator, and a nationally recognized authority on racial issues in America.

As a clinical psychologist, she devoted her career to studying how race impacts self-understanding, particularly in relation to education. She has also been a prominent voice in research showing that young children notice race and has argued that it is something that should be openly and honestly discussed with them instead of ignored. As part of this work, she has called for discussions of race in the classroom, has published the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? and has given lectures across the country.

In 2014, she received the American Psychological Association’s Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology.

Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum

Dr. Warren Washington is a distinguished climate scientist and former chair of the National Science Board.

After completing his Ph.D. in meteorology, he became a research scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). While there, he developed one of the first atmospheric computer models of Earth’s climate. He went on to become the head of NCAR’s Climate Change Research Section.

Washington has been recognized as an expert in atmospheric science, climate research, and the computer modeling of these, receiving multiple presidential appointments to serve on committees, being elected chair of the National Science Board in 2002 and 2004, and receiving numerous awards, including the National Medal of Science in 2009.

Dr. Warren Washington

Learn more! 

There are countless more Black innovators in STEM fields to meet: 

Outdoor Scavenger Hunt Explorer Kit and Downloadable Activities

Sick of being stuck inside? Go on an outdoor scavenger hunt!

Looking for an outdoor activity? Put together an outdoor scavenger hunt explorer kit and see what you can find around your neighborhood!

Materials you will need:

  • A notebook and pencil to record your findings! You could press leaves in the pages, sketch an animal’s footprint, draw an interesting tree to record and look up later.
  • Binoculars, if you have them! Birds of prey like ospreys like to build their nests on top of power poles and other tall structures. Can you find any?
  • Sunscreen! It’s important for outdoor explorers of all ages to protect their skin from sun exposure.
  • Hand sanitizer!
  • Sunglasses! It’s no fun squinting at a tree trying to figure out if that’s a squirrel or a lump of moss
materials for an outdoor scavenger hunt

Download your outdoor scavenger hunt chart, or learn how to make your own customized animal tracking chart!

outdoor scavenger hunt
orlando science center outdoor scavenger hunt

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Get a round up of our latest activities and ideas delivered straight to your inbox so you don't miss a thing!

Find out when we release new resources by following us on social media!

 

Follow us on social media for even more science fun including fun facts, games, behind-the-scenes photos, and more!

 

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Support OSC At Home

In these ever-changing times, it is our pleasure to adapt quality Orlando Science Center experiences to engage with everyone while they are safe at home. Please consider supporting our operating fund to ensure we can continue developing resources today and well into the future. Thank you for your generosity and support!