Chemical Memories

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. Continue reading “Chemical Memories”

Simple Laser Oscilloscope

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 Continue reading “Simple Laser Oscilloscope”

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

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. Continue reading “Perseids on the Blue Ridge Parkway, with a Side Trip to Mayberry”

Video Project for 3D Printing

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. Continue reading “Video Project for 3D Printing”

Blue Ghost Hunting

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 Continue reading “Blue Ghost Hunting”

Comet Pawn Stars

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 … Continue reading Comet Pawn Stars

Amazing Water Experiment

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 … Continue reading Amazing Water Experiment

A Night on Bald Mountain

Bald Rock Sunrise-016

For my birthday this year I decided to take a vacation day from work. Most people would take this as an opportunity to sleep in. I’ve always been of the mind that if I have a day off, I really don’t want to waste any of it, and usually would like to get an early start.

This year I got an earlier start than usual. This night is the peak of the Geminid meteor shower. My plan was to head up to Bald Rock in the South Carolina foothills and watch the meteors, then catch the morning sun rising over the Piedmont. I was hoping to replicate this photo…

Piedmont Sunrise 1 Cropped

…which was taken in January of 2007. Continue reading “A Night on Bald Mountain”

There’s a little black spot on the sun today…

Transit of Venus Jun 5, 2012 7-33 PM.16 PM

Yesterday evening Laura and I headed to to Furman to observe the transit of Venus, as the planet made its way across the surface of the sun.  This astronomical event happens every 120 years, and occurs in pairs, separated by 8 years.  The last transit was in 2004, and the next one won’t be until 2117.

It didn’t look like the weather was going to cooperate.  Heavy clouds obscured the sun, but there were enough breaks to make at least a momentary observation a possibility. So, we made our way down to the central quad area of the Townes Science Center at Furman, where Dr. David Moffat had two telescopes set up, and where others were gathering.

Transit of Venus Jun 5, 2012 6-54 PMTransit of Venus Jun 5, 2012 6-055Transit of Venus

Continue reading “There’s a little black spot on the sun today…”