Science

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Archeology at Pottersville

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Pottersville Kiln Excavation-013

Potsherds at Pottersville

October is Archeology Month. As such, the Archeological Society of South Carolina has been promoting several opportunities for the public to get involved on its Facebook page. The one that caught my eye was an excavation at the Pottersville site north of Edgefield. last Friday I contacted the dig supervisor, archeologist Nicole Isenbarger, and made arrangements to visit.

November of last year Tommy Thompson and I tried to locate Pottersville. I had the coordinates, but the location didn’t look right. The directions we got from the guy at Edgefield Pottery sent us on a wild goose chase. As it turns out, my original coordinates were correct. So, early Friday morning I headed out to rendezvous at the dig site for an 8:00 am start. (more…)

Blood Moon

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Lunar Eclipse-1

I had grand plans for this morning’s “Blood Moon” eclipse. I had a place all staked out with clear views for moonset and sunrise. I was going to set up a time-lapse with my GoPro, and possibly even one with my D7000. I had my D50 ready with the 500mm lens – I was all set to go.

I knew weather might be a factor. It was raining last night, but it was supposed to clear off by morning. I set my alarm so that I could sneak on out and check weather before committing to an excursion. All the news reports had said that the eclipse started at 6:25 am, so I set the alarm for 5:00, which would give me plenty of time to gear up, head out, set up, and take some shots.

Just one problem…6:25 is when totality starts, not the eclipse itself. That actually starts much earlier. When I went out to check the weather I found that part of the moon had already been obscured. I quickly grabbed my camera and long lens and took the photo at the top of this post. It was a hand-held shot at 500mm.

Now I really had a dilemma. I wasn’t going to be able to get the extended time-lapse I wanted. By the time I got to my shooting venue it would be just about at totality and I would have missed the creeping shadow across the moon. There were other factors – while the skies were mostly clear right then, another cloud bank was coming from the west, and moonset would probably be obscured. Reluctantly, I took a few more shots and watch the moon descend into the treeline of our wooded neighborhood, then went back to bed. I’ll try to catch the next lunar eclipse on April 4, 2015.

Lunar Eclipse-2

MaKey MaKey and Google Earth

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Makey Makey and Google Earth-001

MaKey MaKey – Front Side

Before Christmas I got an Amazon gift card for my birthday, and I used it to buy a MaKey MaKey. It arrived just before the hectic Christmas rush and our traveling, so I didn’t really get a chance to play with it. These past few very cold days have been the perfect opportunity to see what this thing can do.

So, what is this thing?

A MaKey MaKey is an Arduino-based computer interface that allows any conductive material to be substituted for a key on the computer keyboard. The name is a contraction of “Make Anything a Key,” or “MaKey.”

The kit comes with alligator clips and jumper wires to attach to…just about anything. The board is connected to the computer via USB. You connect the clip to some conductive material such as aluminum foil, liquid, or even a piece of fruit. Another clip is attached to the ground on the board, the held in one hand. Touching the fruit-foil-liquid will complete the circuit through your body and trigger the key, depending on where the first clip is attached on the board. (more…)

Chemical Memories

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Carl Kort and Tim Hanks

Last night Laura and I attended the fall awards dinner for the Western Carolinas chapter of the American Chemical Society. The event was held at Hannah Flannagan’s in Hendersonville. Recognition was given to those who had been members of ACS for 50 and 60 years. Carl Kort, interim president of Furman University addressed the group.

I admit to being a science geek, but the depth of my knowledge is limited to general topics. Most of the ACS topics are far over my head. However, this one was targeted toward the general public, and it turned out to be a fascinating evening.

As we were driving up, Laura casually mentioned that I had been designated event photographer. Oops. Fortunately, I had my little Panasonic camera, as I always do, so things were OK. (more…)

Simple Laser Oscilloscope

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Many, many years ago I was teaching gifted and talented seventh graders. One of the units of study was “Sight and Sound.” We did cool physics-related experiments, including setting up a darkroom in the basement of the gym, building pinhole cameras, and developing our own photos (back before the days of MDS sheets and fears of lawsuits over anything chemical-related)…

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Pinhole Automobile

…turning an old piano into a hand bell-like instrument using popsicle sticks, fishing line and violin bow resin, building a walk-in camera obscura, and programming a Bach chorale into four old Tandy 1000 computers. In short, it explored two of my favorite things – photography and music.

One of the things we created was a simple laser oscilloscope. I had seen this at Discovery Place in Charlotte, and wanted to replicated it in my classroom. In the days before cheap laser pointers, I had bought a helium-neon laser for some of our class projects. Using that laser, an old speaker, and a music synthesizer, we were able to construct something that would work.

Fast forward 25 years or so…

Earlier this summer I was playing with our cats, using a toy laser pointer. The cats go crazy chasing the little red dot. It occurred to me that I could recreate my project from long ago with this simple pointer.

Laser Oscilloscope-002 (more…)

Perseids on the Blue Ridge Parkway, with a Side Trip to Mayberry

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Parkway and New River Gorge-4

August 11, 2013

We hadn’t given the new Mini a proper shake-down road trip. When we got the Audi we took it completely across country, driving from South Carolina to somewhere north of Seattle. We didn’t have the time nor energy for such an adventure this time (Well, at least one of us didn’t :-)) so we decided on something a bit shorter.

It was time for the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. We figured the perfect way to christen the car would be to take it up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and try to find a bit of dark sky to watch for them. From there we would do some free form road tripping, hoping to wind up in Washington DC by the end of the week.

I had scouted a few potential sites on Google Earth, but there was no way to tell if there would be dark skies. So, shortly after lunch we set off, having somehow managed to pack our gear into the tiny trunk of the Mini. We wanted to make tracks, so we took the Interstate straight on up to Gastonia, then headed off toward Blowing Rock, where we hit the Parkway. We drove with the top back, enjoying the breeze.

There were quite a few clouds, but for the most part it was sunny and the day was spectacular. We pulled off at several overlooks, many of which looked like like they would work for meteor viewing. I didn’t take many photos along the way, though. (more…)

Video Project for 3D Printing

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Trent and Elaine with Video Setup

File this under one of those “now that you have the time” requests. John Kaup handles science education outreach for Furman, and had first approached me about this project. Elaine Smith is a chemistry teacher at Marion High School in Horry County, and she is spending the summer developing modules for teachers to use with 3D printing. As part of this project she wanted to develop short introductory and closing video segments for each module. That’s where I came in. They needed my services to help put together the videos.

The project itself is quite fascinating. Elaine is working with Tim Hanks and Casper Wright from Furman on using 3D printing to create biomedical structures. Tim and Casper’s research involves developing alginates that are electrically conductive. These alginates can be loaded into a 3D printer and printed into any shape, and research is being done to see if they can eventually substitute for neurons and other tissues. Elaine’s portion of the research is to develop simple demonstrations for these techniques for high school students.

Alginates

For this project I wanted to use the best possible image source that I could, and I decided that was my Nikon D7000 DSLR. I hadn’t really done any video with it. In fact, I had shied away from video on this particular camera because the audio quality wasn’t what I wanted. The built-in microphone tends to pick up motor noise from the autofocus and image stabilization on the lens. (more…)

Blue Ghost Hunting

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Blue Ghost Fireflies Color Corrected

Wednesday night is ghost night in the Taylor-Wright household. That’s the night Laura’s favorite paranormal shows come on TV – Ghost Hunters, Haunted Collector, and the latest, Deep South Paranormal. This particular Wednesday, though, we had something different in mind. We were going ghost hunting ourselves. Specifically, we were going to see the Blue Ghost Fireflies, Phausis reticulata. We had the privilege of seeing the blue ghosts a couple of years ago. Turns out that was another Wednesday night when we would have been watching Ghost Hunters, too. That would not be the last coincidence on this particular trip.

Our friend Joyce McCarrell arranged the outing and sent us the invitation. We met with her and the others that were going at the Cafe at Williams Hardware. Our host for the evening was Ann Tankersly, and we would be following her up to her property near River Falls. In all, there were nine of us heading out to see the Blue Ghosts.

Blue Ghost Fireflies-001 (more…)

Comet Pawn Stars

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Comet Panstarrs

This evening David Moffett of the Furman University Physics Department was hosting a viewing of Comet Pan-STARRS on campus. Laura and I decided to head up and see if we could spot it. Of course, I came overloaded with cameras, telescopes, and binoculars. I wasn’t going to miss out on a photographic opportunity.

When we arrived the sun had just set, and the weather was iffy at best. A low bank of clouds covered the horizon, and a larger bank could be found above that. There was a gap in the clouds that might allow for viewing, but we were afraid the comet would be behind the clouds.

Comet watching

David was the only one there, and was setting up two small telescopes – a Celestron NextStar and a small Meade, both about the same size as my Celestron C90. Of course, he had much better tripods with drive mounts. Still, I set up the telescope with my Nikon D7000 attached with a T-Mount. One student also stopped by, and we all started looking for the comet in binoculars. It took me awhile, but eventually I found it in the gap between clouds.

Finding the comet in binoculars and finding it in my telescope were two different things. I eventually found it in the spotter scope, but when I snapped a picture nothing came out but dark sky. I cranked up the ISO setting on the camera and set it for a 2″ exposure, and finally captured the image above. I managed to get two other shots, but that was the best one. Eventually the comet did set into the cloud bank.

We stayed and looked at the moon and Jupiter’s moons through David’s telescopes after the comet set. It made me wish for a better scope of my own. However, since we live in such a light-polluted area, that wouldn’t make much sense.

Still, I’m glad I got the shot. I’ll consider this practice for this fall when Comet ISON comes around.

UPDATE: I added my photo to the Comet Pan-STARRS Fickr group. There are some amazing photos in that collection. My favorite, though, is this time-lapse by photographer Kevin Palmer

Amazing Water Experiment

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A friend on Facebook shared this with me this afternoon…

[Raises his hand and puts on his best Sheldon Cooper impression and says, “Pick me!  Pick me!  I know the answer!”, then launches into an overly long, round-about explanation of the video…]

When I was a young teacher I visited Discovery Place in Charlotte.  They had this fascinating laser oscilloscope demonstration.  I had to figure out how they made it, so I asked questions.  With my seventh grade GT students we built our own laser oscilloscope from an old sub-woofer, a small mirror glued to the speaker, and a helium-neon laser pointed at the mirror and reflected onto a projection screen.

We attached a musical synthesizer to the speaker, and fed various tonalities into the homemade oscilloscope.  A sine wave produced a perfect circle.  If I played an open fifth on the keyboard, we got an infinity symbol, although it was not quite perfect.  A major third produced a pattern that would seem to rotate.  The further up the harmonic series we went, the more intricate the pattern we got.

This was a perfect way to demonstrate Bach’s “well-tempererd clavier.”  Without getting into too much physics, there is discrepancy between the natural harmonic series and the tonal keys of Western music.  If you have a piano perfectly tuned for the key of C, then it will sound out of tune if you try to play something in the key of F.  On a well-tempered keyboard, the discrepancy is distributed throughout the keyboard, so the fourths are tuned a bit sharp and the fifths are tuned a bit narrow.  The major third bears the brunt of the temperament, and can be out of tune as much as seven beats per second.  So, a well-tuned piano is actually slightly out of tune. This makes it so that you can play a piano in multiple keys without having to re-tune the piano each time.

On our homemade oscilloscope, this temperament manifested itself as the rotating pattern when a major third was played, and the slightly imperfect major fifth.

…but, back to the video above….

In the video above the water tube is adhered to the speaker in much the same way as the small mirror in my oscilloscope.  It moves in a pattern just like the tone fed into the speaker.  That creates the circular pattern in the water stream.  The rest, however, is a bit of photographic trickery.

The camera is set at 24 frames per second.  This matches the 24 Hz frequency of the sine wave in the video.  The result is a stroboscopic effect, where the water appears to be frozen.  Increasing the frequency to 25 Hz throws the sine wave slightly out of synch with the camera, so the water stream appears to move forward.  At 23 Hz, the stream appears to move backward.  I’m guessing that the live view would be somewhat boring in comparison.  Of course, you could get a strobe to repeat the effect in real life.

So, that’s how the video was created.  I’d love to try it myself.  Of course, I’d love to build a new laser oscilloscope.  But kids today are making them from new materials.  Instead of helium-neon, little laser pointers are readily available, and old CD/DVD players can be cannibalized for their laser diodes.  Instead of a speaker, the attenuator arm of an old computer hard drive seems to work better.

So, having explained the joke, and thereby taking all of the fun out of it, I think I’ll go find me a small mirror and glue it to an old speaker.

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