Tasty Experiments: Lava Candy

It doesn’t matter what the Universe throws at us, I know at least one of our spawnlings loves me–the one who made me Lava Candy!!

(Note: This preference changes on a weekly no, daily no hourly basis. Hell, whichever spawnling lets me sleep in can score the Brownie Points at any given moment.)

Today’s tasty experiment is brought to you by Nefarious, our budding chemist/astrophysicist/mechanic. He wanted a Chemistry kit for his birthday. When the spawnlings’ godfather turned up, Nefarious was absolutely thrilled to have a real life chemist in the Lair and asked to bring out the kit. EG Tenacious willingly agreed; which is yet another reason why he (and his amazing partner EG Sinful) are the perfect guardians for our spawnlings, if something were to befall us.

Nefarious Lava Candy.jpg

Lava Candy

** Adult assistance is required. Ingredients will get very hot and potentially burn exposed skin. Not nice.img_1256

Materials Required:

  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • Heavy based saucepan
  • Wooden spoon
  • Baking dish lined with waxed paper

Method

  1. Place sugar and golden syrup into the saucepan
  2. Over a VERY LOW heat, stir continuously until all the sugar has dissolved
  3. Continue to heat (there will be heavy bubbling of the mixture) and stir for 7 mins. DO NOT OVERHEAT. The syrup should be pale golden brown.img_1260
  4. Remove saucepan from the heat and immediately add the baking soda. Stir quickly but gently, making sure all the baking soda is completely mixed in.
  5. Pour onto a prepared paper lined dish/tray. Allow to cool for at least an hour. IT WILL REMAIN VERY HOT FOR QUITE AWHILE. DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO TASTE UNTIL COMPLETELY COOL. 
  6. Break into pieces and enjoy and then coat in milk chocolate. Either dip in chocolate or pour melted chocolate over broken pieces. The ‘Lava Candy’ is a bit like Violet Crumble. Aussie minions will know what I mean. Trust me – it’s good.

img_1271The science in all of this is in the reaction between the ingredients, particularly the addition of baking soda. It provides an excellent preliminary example of quick reactions between various chemicals.

It also provides EG Mum with her own supply of chocolate-coated Lava Candy. So I see this as a win-win all around.

Well, except for EG Tenacious, who had to return to work before tasting the chocolate-covered Lava Candy. Next time, EG Tenacious. Next time…

Helium

We have had a few birthdays around the lair this week. Zaltu turned three, along with a few other mini-minions around the neighbourhood. And with birthdays come the parties, and with parties come balloons.


At one party, Zaltu became enamoured with a big bright blue balloon. It had a shiny skin and a sparkly silver tail trailing down to her tiny little wrist. It was almost as big as her eyes.

And then she stepped outside.

And whichever numpty tied the balloon to her wrist was clearly not a knot-expert.

<it was me>

There is nothing as forlorn as a small child watching their big bright blue balloon float up into the big bright blue sky.

Well, except for seeing said child staring helplessly at the balloon stuck in a tree just out of reach. 

To Zaltu’s credit, she didn’t freak out or throw a tantrum, or collapse into a meltdown. She was upset, and there were some quiet tears, but instead she turned to me and asked: “why does my balloon fly away?”

So I SCIENCED!!

<insert dodgy 80’s music>


And we talked about Helium (remembering she is 3yo):

We talked about how the air we breathe is made of lots of different gases; some gases we want to breathe in like Oxygen because it is how we live. Some gases we breathe out, like Nitrogen because we don’t need it in our body in such a large dose. Another gas is Helium, which we can neither see, taste, nor smell. 

Helium is really light compared to other gases. For example, the nitrogen we breathe out is about 8 times heavier than helium. When we blow nitrogen into a balloon, the balloon weighs it down so it only has a light buoyancy – enough to sort of bounce, a bit.

Helium, however, is light enough to lift a lot of things, at a rate of about 1 gram to every litre of helium you are using.

This also means you can weigh down a helium-filled balloon, without impacting on its buoyant appearance. This could be a rock, or a tree, or a person. 

Over time, the helium will leak out the balloon – it is a gas do it can leak out even the smallest gap. The more that leaks out, the less helium available to float the balloon.

While we were having this discussion, the lovely hosts of the birthday party brought Zaltu another balloon. They also taught me how to tie a better knot. Because evidently, I suck at it.

However, Zaltu stopped them from tying it to her wrist.

Instead, she looked at the balloon. Then looked at her body, then looked at me.

Back to herself. Back to me… 

“Mum. You better hold my balloon. Your bigger weight is better to hold my balloon down.”

Yeah. Thanks for that. 

Fine. I’ll have another piece of cake, thanks – for Zaltu’s sake, of course. 

Sidenote: there’s a bit of debate on whether helium balloons are environmentally friendly. The Surfing Scientist said it best with his fairly detailed answer. And yes. We did go back to collect the ribbon once the first balloon came down from tree.


Forensic Friday: Our Dinosaur Project

It seems ‘world creating’ has become a thing in the EG Lair.

It all started with Sinister building his own terrarium for a school project last term (which he scored 93%… Such a good little evil genius…) – 3 months later and it is still going strong, without any further interaction. Not bad for a 9yo.

This type of experiment started us thinking: “why not incorporate some other real-life elements in our plays?”

And thus the Dinosaur Project began.


The Dinosaur Project

All of our elements were already around the home, but you can pick them up from your nearest shops for a fairly reasonable cost:

  • A large pot
  • Enough soil to fill it
  • One or two plants – we chose two dwarf palms as they look like plants from a prehistoric era, plus they were left-overs from Sinister’s terrarium
  • One large styrofoam cone
  • One plastic container – like a takeaway container
  • A dozen or so small toy dinosaurs
  • Paint – brown, red, and blue

What did we do:

  1. Fill the pot with the soil – ours was already full, but did require some weeding.
  2. Paint the inside of your plastic container blue – you don’t have to but it did add to the aesthetics.
  3. Snap the top off the styrofoam cone. Don’t be too worried about neatness; you want it to be a little rough. You’re painting the sides brown, and the top red – Look! It’s a volcano!
  4. While you wait for the paint to dry, kick in to the gardening with your plants.
  5. Now you can add your volcano and your primordial swamp. I think we can do more with the swamp/lake but we can do that another day. In the meantime… RAWR!!!

Zaltu is loving this little play area. She is really into the role-playing side, but I also noticed how quickly she picked up the carnivore / herbivore discussion we had earlier.

I would consider the Dinosaur Project a success. Now we are thinking of other ‘world creating’ play areas we can make!! 

Any suggestions?

Improv is Resilient

We all want the best for our kids. To be happy; To be smart; To be healthy; To be educated. The latest buzzword in parenting is “resilient”: we all want our kids to survive. Because in life, when you get knocked down, you need to get up again – swinging.

But how do we instill resilience? What’s the magic potion that raises your survival stats +10? The answer may lie in improvisation.

Improv is Resilient.jpg

Image by EG Mum

About a week ago, Professor Johannes Haushofer published online his “CV of Failures”. Essentially, it was a list of all the programs he didn’t get into, the Papers not published, research funding he did not receive. The CV was accepted by most with a sense of relief that hey! Here’s a professor that isn’t perfect and he’s doing okay!

Why was this a big deal? Because he was showing how he had been knocked down – and then got back up again. This is resilience. The ability to see any rejection or failure as a life-lesson, and improve upon it.

And this is where improvisation exercises can really help out.

Improvisation usually comes in two different streams – drama and music. Sometimes they overlap; sometimes they go their own merry way. They both take different approaches in how they are applied, yet still end up at the same destination: Resilience.

To find out the direct influence of improvisation on our brains, researchers Charles Limb and Allen Braun were shoving jazz pianists into an fMRI scanner, measuring the changes in blood flow to different parts of the brain during improvisation.

They learnt that when improvising, the conscious monitoring part of the brain (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) is ‘sshhhh-ed‘ while the area for self-expression (medial prefrontal cortex) is woken up. In short, that little voice in your head that criticises you, and tells you to quit, and tells you how everyone is waiting for you to make a mistake: Improvisation tells that voice to shut up.

It happens in athletes too. Research there has shown how constantly working on “muscle memory” often results in choking under pressure.

So I ran this past a friend who is a performing artist AND a music teacher with kids, Helen Perris. Helen had her own anecdotal evidence about improv students showing greater resilience in other aspects of their lives. And while she wasn’t exactly sure whether this was cause or correlation, it was common enough for her to start all the younger students with improv and encourage the creativity with the skill.

brian cox

One more example of how good improvisation is: The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University offers a graduate course on improv to help fresh scientists express their ideas without sounding like a textbook, or essentially a big nerd. I kid you not. The aim is to teach scientists how to open up with their communication and have more confidence in their visions and questions. They are teaching science bros to be even more awesome science bros! Soon the world will be taken over by nerds like Brian Cox… and I am okay with that.

So have I convinced you to jump on my improv train? Well, the first rule of improv is to say yes. And teach your kids to say yes.

Now don’t go crazy on this one. I know we still need to teach them self-awareness and protecting their own interests. I’m talking about saying yes to their own imagination. Saying yes to the creative impulse of their peers.

Kids naturally have this, and yet sometimes it feels like only the people who keep it into adulthood are actors and musicians; The Performers.

So I asked an improv actor about it. I had the opportunity to ask improv extraordinaire Jon Favreau on how he includes improv exercises with his own kids:

Improv is great for kids! It is so natural! In fact, I’m doing exercises with them all the time; the best way is when they don’t realise it’s an ‘exercise’ at all. It’s just a game or a bit of fun you’re having anywhere. Like playing games in the pool.

Jon Favreau 01

Of course, the first games that come to mind are the basic RPG – Jon is a huge D&D fan, and known for bringing a bit of RPG to his productions. Other alternatives are games like Munchkin Quest or Tavern Fame (both are huge favourites in our house).  But if that’s not your thing, there are plenty of other options.

Lisa (a fellow GeekMom) recently wrote about the importance of “worldplay” for kids; allowing kids the freedom to create their own world and roles, with no limit to their imagination. This is great, but you can make it even better. Get down with them and say “YES” to them. Let them make the rules and keep saying “YES” (so long as they aren’t showing complete psychopathic tendencies).

And it’s not just games. If your kid is feeling a little anxious about something coming up, have them pretend-play to work out their best/worst case scenarios. Help them ‘hear’ their own reactions and plan out subsequent reactions. I know adults who are prepping conversations like this all the time.

Each of these ideas is bringing out the kids’ creativity. It is telling that inner critic to shut up and give them a chance to grow outside the usual social boundaries. This is a good thing. This teaches them there is a world beyond this one event. That the world does not crash and burn if they make a mistake. That if something knocks them down, they will be okay. They will recover. They will get up swinging, and start creating a new world.

They will be resilient. And they will be marvellous.
This was originally posted over at GeekDad/GeekMom 

 

Sinister Gives Life

Last week, Sinister did all the prep work for his terrarium: Cleaning; and Foundation Layers.

Now it is time to bring life to his project!

  
Not all of these plants are going in – and especially not all of the Maidenhair Fern! Sinister is also doing a smaller ‘back-up terrarium’ in a 3L OJ bottle with one or two of these plants. 

The plants that made the cut-off for the demijohn are:

  • Maidenhair Fern
  • Peperomia Peppermill
  • Ficus Benjamina Var

The Parlour Palm almost made it but he was concerned about space.

This is important – you do not want to crowd your terrarium. You need to create a balance of life-cycle with moisture, light, and air-flow. Too many plants and you start to lose light and moisture while creating the wrong balance in air-flow.

If you’re observant (and all aspiring Evil Genius should be), you have noticed the Maidenhair Fern … And how big it is. 

Good news is: ferns are fairly easy to break up. Sinister found a “how-to” video on Martha Stewart’s website. Seriously. Despite her jail time, she is pretty close to EG-material.

Divide and Conquer:

Any plant you put in has to fit through the opening. 

Maidenhair Fern can be divided fairly easily with a knife. Find the nodes on the plant (cluster points for the roots) and cut around them.

  
Once you have loosened up the roots drop it in to the terrarium on the end of a stick, if you can balance it. 

When putting the foundation layers in, Sinister used a tube to direct the flow. That probably would have worked here too. 
 
  Once in the vessel, move the plant gently with a long stick. When you have it in place, gently push the plant into the soil with the stick.

Each plant needs to have space away from the others (just like any sibling relationship). Sinister used some long-ish tweezers to “direct” his drop. His aim was pretty good. 

  
The last step was to add a little top up soil for the plants, and a few table-spoons of water.  Enough to moisten the soil but don’t saturate it. The condensation cycle should start within a day or two, and that should start producing enough moisture for your plants.

  
And that, my dear minions, is Sinister’s Self-Sustained Terrarium.

He is now in ‘Observation/Maintenance Mode’; Checking it every day and noting down any changes or maintenance required. This project is due for submission at the end of March so we’ll keep you updated then.
UPDATE: Sinister received 94% for the entire project, with special mention and a Merit Award for his terrarium. The teacher was most impressed with his detailed report on all of the steps preparing and building the mini-ecosystem. There’s the secret, minions: write EVERYTHING down. 

UPDATE: 12 months later – and the terrarium is still going strong. One of the plants has brown leaves but is not dead. Condensation is still cycling inside and it looks strong and healthy. Man, he really knows how to do a science project! 

 

Preparing Your Own EG World

If you really want to create your own world to conquer and command, you need to do some prep work.

For those tuning in for the first time (slackers): Sinister has chosen to build his own self-sustaining terrarium for a science project. He has already researched what he needs and the environment he needs to create; we bought a demijohn (glass jar) and he has cleaned it up.

Today, he is preparing the foundation for the plants.

The first thing he realised was how narrow the opening was. No matter what he puts in there, he needs to be careful putting it in. 

Sinister came up with the idea of a funnel and a conical style tube – like a long straw. By using the long tube, he could control how much of each substance would disperse at the bottom, limiting the mess at the bottom. 

It’s not just a matter of dumping some soil in the jar and hoping for the best. There are a number of elements to consider:

First layer: Gravel
  

Gravel allows drainage, preventing water from pooling in your soil and rotting the roots.

Second layer: Charcoal

Charcoal is great for cleaning out toxins, in the soil and the air. This helps prevent too many micro-organisms in your set-up. 

Third layer: Sand

  

Sand is, again, about drainage but it also gives some stability to the plants’ roots.

Fourth layer: Soil

The final and crucial layer, but don’t lay it on too thick. Keep it a little moist but not heavy in the plants.

There is a magical ratio for the layers, providing a good foundation while allowing plenty of air-flow with the condensation cycle.

One third of your terrarium should be made of materials which are not air.

 Sinister explained the importance of ‘air-space’: the air-flow ensures the plants have fresh nutrients both above and below the surface. It allows sunlight to come through, which is a nutrient, and encourages the condensation cycle to distribute evenly through the terrarium. Stagnant air chokes the plants and that is bad for everything. 

 
Ignore the ruler propaganda – it was the closest ruler he could find. The point here is to measure your environment and plan your layers accordingly. 

So now the foundation is in, Sinister just needs to figure out how to put the plants in. 

  
I reckon he is up for the challenge.