Science & Celebration – Happy 4th of July

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Independence Day is here; this weekend fireworks will light up the sky around the nation in celebration. But…how are fireworks made? And…who thought to send brightly colored explosions into the sky?

For Arbordale celebration and science go hand in hand, so here is a quick history chemistry and physics lesson in fireworks!

History

The Chinese were experimenting with exploding tubes of bamboo as early as 200 B.C., but it wasn’t until 900 A.D. that Chinese chemists found a mix that when stuffed in bamboo and thrown in a fire produced a loud bang. Over the next several hundred years experimentation lead to the first rockets, but as fire power began to fly in the air, celebrations also began to light up the sky.

Soon firework technology began to spread across Europe to Medieval England. The popularity of celebrating war victories and religious ceremonies with fireworks displays grew. The Italian pyrotechnic engineers are first credited with adding color to their fireworks in the 1830’s. The Europeans brought their knowledge of fireworks to America, and the first recorded display was in Jamestown in 1608.

fireworks1John Adams predicted that fireworks would be part of the Fourth of July celebrations on July 3, 1776 with a letter to Abigail Adams where he said, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

And so on the first anniversary of the country and each year we celebrate with Pomp and Parade, ending the day with Illuminations!

The Science

The Chinese put bamboo in the fire and the air pocket would make a bang when it was heated to a certain temperature. Today we have much better technology and fireworks are a little more complicated. The basic science has not changed, but the delivery methods have gotten much more accurate and high tech giving celebrators a bigger better show.

We know a tube is our vehicle, but how does it travel to the sky?

A mix of combustible solid chemicals is packed into the tube, along with neatly arranged fireworks3metals. The metals determine the color (copper=blue/green, calcium=red), and the arrangement determines shape (circle, smiley faces, stars).

When the heat activates the chemicals, the excitement begins. The reaction is started by either fire or electricity through a fuse. As the heat begins to travel into the tube the chemicals become activated that reaction produces other chemicals such as smoke and gasses. The chemical reaction creates the release of energy; the energy is converted into the heat, light, sound and movement that we see up in the sky.

Physics takes over!

The Conservation of Energy Law says that the chemical energy packed inside that tube is equal to the energy of the released plus the energy left after the reaction. A professional firework in a large tube packed with chemicals creates a much bigger light show and bang than a tiny firecracker that jumps with a small bang.

The fireworks fly because of Newton’s Third Law. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” When the gasses are released from the chemical reaction they shoot down with force cause the firework to lift up into the air.

Finally, Why are fireworks always symmetrical?

fireworks2Conservation of Momentum says that momentum must be the same before and after the explosion. In other words, when the explosion occurs the movement must be balanced.

Now that you have learned a little about the science behind fireworks enjoy watching them on this Independence Day. But remember, fireworks are dangerous and best left to the professionals!

Have you ever seen a mermaid?

Manatees are credited with being the inspiration for the first mermaid sightings. In the days that Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” he recorded in his diary that three not so pretty mermaids were rising out of the sea. Because manatees are known to stand on their tails many believe that Columbus’ mermaids were actually manatees.

In the South Pacific the dugong, a close relative of the manatee, is known as the “lady of the sea” where residents of manateeMalaysia and Palau celebrate this gentle animal. Many historians believe that it was here after Europeans spent several months at sea they mistook the dugong for a mermaid.

Today both the manatee and the dugong are protected by law and listed as threatened on the endangered species list.  Their friendly nature may be what has put this “mermaid” into trouble.

When the northern waters start to get colder many manatees will head south with a large concentration of the population in Florida. They do not shy away from humans and although they can swim very fast they spend most of their time in rivers and creeks. This time of year is particularly dangerous and the number one concern for manatees is boaters. The thick skin on their backs and surprising speed is very helpful in defense against sharks, but boat motors are a little more dangerous.

If you would like to learn more about manatees check out these Arbordale books that feature mermaids!

Shark Baby
By Ann Downer illustrated by Shennen Bersani
SharkBaby_128“Who am I?” wonders Shark Baby. When his “mermaid’s purse” egg case is torn loose in a storm, he finds himself on a journey through different ocean habitats: kelp forests, coral reefs, and seagrass meadows. He learns what kind of shark he isn’t, but not what kind he is. He needs to find the “mermaid” to learn where he belongs, but the ocean is big and full of dangers. Will he find out who he is—and what he can do—in time?

Felina’s New Home: A Florida Panther Story
by Loran Wlodarski illustrated by Lew Clayton
Felina's New HomeFelina the Florida panther loved growing up in her forest home, until the forest starts to shrink! Trees begin to disappear, and Felina doesn’t understand the new busy highway in the neighborhood. Other animals are in danger, too. Will Felina find a way to survive as humans threaten to ruin her home? Environmental science writer Loran Wlodarski gives children a look into deforestation and endangered animals in Felina’s New Home: A Florida Panther Story, complemented by the detailed, emotive illustrations of Lew Clayton. Learn whether the animals in Felina’s forest adapt to the new human presence and what children can do to keep wild animals safe, happy, and healthy.

Water Beds: Sleeping in the Ocean
By Gail Langer Karwoski illustrated by Connie McLennan
WaterBeds_128Tuck your little ones into bed with this soothing, restful story. How do marine mammals – animals that breathe air – sleep in the deep waters of the ocean? Water Beds: Sleeping in the Ocean answers this question. Youngsters meet ten marine mammals, including sea otters and bottlenose dolphins, manatees and harbor seals, humpback whales and walruses, and learn about each animal’s unique habits. Although the brief portraits are based on up-to-date scientific research, author Gail Langer Karwoski weaves the facts into simple, poetic language. Connie McLennan’s rich oil paintings capture the ocean’s habitats and its appealing creatures. The story invites children to drift into a peaceful sleep on the gentle waves of imagination.

Happy Birthday America!

 

At Sylvan Dell, we have found it hard to keep focused with all the exciting holiday festivities on the horizon.   Whether you are 60 or just 6, July 4th is a holiday easily celebrated by the entire family. There are some timeless traditions that, in our opinion, just cannot be forgotten! These include: the annual summer cookout, flying the American flag, spending time with friends and family (preferably by the pool, lake, or ocean), going to a fireworks show or July 4th parade in the nearest town, and of course, Cooking/Crafting/Wearing the color array of red, white, and blue.

As most of you have probably been taught, Independence Day refers to the historical event on July 4, 1776 when representatives of the 13 original colonies signed the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, asserting their freedom from Great Britain. This declaration would come at a high cost. Soon followed the American Revolutionary War, where victory seemed doubtful. Yet here we are 237 years later as the fifty United States of America!

Today, July 4th is typically known for the amazing fireworks displays. Ironically, the first documentation of fireworks took place in China over 2,000 years ago! China still remains the leading manufacturer and exporter of fireworks, responsible for over 90% of the world’s fireworks. Fireworks originally were only made in orange and white, than in the Middle Ages new colors were made by experimenting with different salts. Blue is the hardest color to create. The largest recorded fireworks display happened in Portugal in 2006 which consisted of 66,326 fireworks.

The United States still has some pretty amazing fireworks shows across the country. The Travel Channel has put together a list of the “Best US Fireworks Displays” which highlights 17 different cities.     http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/holidays/photos/best-us-fireworks-displays 

If you can’t make it to one the locations on the list, don’t fret! Try taking some really cool pictures with sparklers in your own backyard. All you need is a few sparklers, a dark setting, and a camera recording a long exposure. Just make sure to put the sparkler in a cool bucket of water once you are finished (safety first!). File:Sparkler 3.JPG

Some cities want to extend the patriotic celebration all year long. 31 places nationwide have the word “liberty” in their name, 11 use “independence, 5 places adopted the name “freedom”, another 5 use “America”, but only 1 place in the US uses “patriot”. The July 4th celebrations in these areas have to be a blast! No matter where you are at tomorrow, you can always show your American allegiance through dress or fun crafts. One website we found offers a fun way to decorate your bike for a stroll around the neighborhood or small parade. http://www.bhg.com/holidays/july-4th/crafts/patriotic-crafts-for-kids/#page=3  Star-Spangled Bicycle

All of us in the office will be out celebrating our Independence tomorrow, what does your July 4th celebration look like?

Cinco de Mayo!

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photo by D. B. King

On May 5th, around the United States and Mexico, colorful decorations will hang, mariachi bands will play, and people will party in the street to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. This holiday celebrates Mexican culture – the music, the traditions, the food, but why, exactly, are we celebrating on this day? Some people think that Cinco de Mayo marks the day when Mexico became independent from Spain, or when the Mexican Civil War ended. Nope! Actually, Cinco de Mayo celebrates a battle in a war that Mexico lost!  

Mexico had a tough start as a country, enduring war after war, first against America in 1846, then against themselves in the Mexican Civil War. When all this was over, the country had spent so much on war that there was very little money for regular people to spend in their lives; in other words, the economy was hurt. As countries sometimes do, Mexico borrowed money from other nations in order to help itself. And, as friends sometimes do when you borrow a toy or book from them, those countries got tired of waiting for Mexico to give their property back and came over to collect. No, their moms didn’t drive them over in the van or anything like that; fleets of warships representing England, Spain and France crossed the Atlantic Ocean, entered the Mexican coastline and demanded that Mexico pay them back.

Mexico didn’t have the money to pay them though! What’s a young country to do?! All they had were vouchers to give to the representatives from these countries, papers that double-super-promised to someday pay them back. This satisfied England and Spain and they went home, but to France, this meant war! Sacre bleu!

Under the command of Napoleon III, France invaded Mexico with the intention to totally control it. They marched from the coastline to Mexico City, and on the way passed the small Mexican state of Puebla. The Mexican soldiers at Puebla were vastly outnumbered, but in this fight on May 5, 1862, called La Batalla de Puebla, Mexico somehow overcame the odds and defeated the French forces! Now that’s reason to celebrate!

France eventually managed to occupy Mexico, but they were delayed a whole year by this surprising Mexican victory. The shocking, underdog victory at Puebla has come to symbolize the Mexican spirit of resilience and tenacity. Therefore, on its anniversary every year, Mexico and places with many people of Mexican descent play Cumbia music, wave the Mexican flag, eat tamales, hit pinatas, and generally celebrate all things Mexico!

Of course, at Sylvan Dell we celebrate Mexican people and culture every day! Each and every one of our dozens of titles are available in Spanish, such as Los árboles de globos and La naturaleza recicla—¿Lo haces tú? and El detective deductive!

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The Quantum Classroom

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Quick! What’s behind you right now? Did you peek over to see desks, the wallpaper, students, books, or toys? Were those objects there even before you looked at them? Are they there now, even though you’re reading this instead of seeing them? As strange as it sounds, some scientists believe that nothing exists definitely until someone measures it, such as you did with your eyes and ears. These scientists work in a field of science called Quantum Mechanics.

In the early 1900s, smarty-pants scientists like Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, and Werner Heisenberg studied, experimented and argued over the question of what light was made of. Light was very mysterious to scientists at the time, because in some experiments it acted like a wave, similar to the invisible radio and magnetic waves all around us. In other experiments though, light acted like a particle, a solid object like a Pop Tart, a textbook, a penny, a skyscraper… Anything that’s in one place and that weighs something is a particle. It didn’t seem to make sense for something to be an invisible wave and a solid particle at the same time, but in test after test, light was both! You might think it was time for these scientists to turn in their labcoats and get new jobs… this was too hard to figure out! Instead of giving up though, the scientists continued experimenting and studying the subject until they found a solution: light is a wave until it gets observed, then it becomes a solid particle!

This was huge news for scientists. If light acts like this, then other solid objects may not be so solid after all too. The scientists studying Quantum Mechanics presented this thought-provoking possibility: that that the world is actually a wave of possibilities until we observe it, then it becomes the solid place we can feel, touch, taste and smell. It’s a bit like hiding trash under your bed: if you can’t see it, it’s not there!

The Many Facets of Halloween!

Our celebration of Halloween today is but a pale representation of its actual rich and multicultural history.  It was once a celebration marking the end of the growing season, and a heralding of the coming winter months.  It is told that this day, of all days in the year, is the one in which the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest.  It is the day that ghouls and ghosts can walk among the living.  While costumes today are for entertainment and fun, they were once used to confuse the dead and keep the living safe on this supernatural night.  Blended from several origins, including the Celts, Romans, and Catholic tradition, Halloween came to be it’s own special celebration.  Today, however, it has become a nationally commercial holiday, supported by a consumer based economy. 

Back in the old days…with the history of the Celts, Druid priests were believed to have the ability to commune with the dead.  It was rumored that their powers were the most powerful on the last day of the year: Samhain (sow-en) according to the Celtic calendar.  On this day, the Celtic people would extinguish their hearth fires and gather in front of a bonfire for the evening instead.  A celebration of singing, dancing, and listening to stories would ensue.  At the end of the evening, each family would take some of the bonfire home and relight it in their hearths in hopes of good fortune for their home and family in the coming year.  If it did not light, misfortune or death would come to someone in the house that year. The celebration of Halloween does not come directly from this day, however, for credit can also be given to the practice of several other cultures.

For instance, in the New World, Halloween was largely disallowed.  In Maryland, however, it was encouraged, and people would attend parties with singing and dancing and ghost stories.  Children would dress in costumes and try to scare one another.  The actual tradition of trick-or-treating from door to door, did not begin until the Irish immigrants brought it with them when they came fleeing from the Potato Famine. 

In relation to Pagan tradtion, this night was determined to be the night that a young woman would find out her future husband.  This would be done by looking into a mirror in a dark room or by peeling an apple and casting the peel over her shoulder.  Many Christian churches, who believed such paganistic rituals would lead to witchcraft and Satanism, created “Hell Houses” (haunted houses to us today), which were meant to scare children and young adults away from ever tampering with such damning traditions.

As you can see, this now famous American holiday is due to the old practices of many cultures throughout the centuries.  There is so much more to learn about the history of Halloween as well all the other holidays we celebrate with our friends and loved ones.  The best part is that ALL of the learning can be done through the simply wonderful act of reading!

Tomorrow, Nov. 1, is the start of National Family Literacy Month.  Take advantage of this time to spark a budding love of reading in your child.  Read to them about interesting facts they don’t know, and let them read with you.  Sylvan Dell Publishing has a whole slew of options that can help aid you in educating your little one on a parent-child basis.  Check out our homepage, and from there you can read about every book we have to offer you and your child!