Mythbusters: SEG Edition

Oh, “mythbusters” is a trademarked name?  Okay, I’ll go with B.S.-buster.

For years, the museum industry has been regaled with urban legends that decry the nefarious side of one of our favorite toys, Bucky Balls.  I’ve had parents, kids, my mom, grandparents, and the odd pedestrian in the parking lot all tell me the same apocryphal tale.  Most stories go like this:

“Once upon the time, [your cousin’s cousin /my friend’s sister/ boss’ pediatrician]’s kid ate TWO Bucky Balls and ZOMG they connected in her intestines and BURNED A HOLE through the lining!”

Being an innate skeptic, I am unsure that magnets can actually burn a hole through intestinal walls.  However, after a cursory Google search yielded no results, I decided to try it out myself.

Behold, my super-scientific experiment:

Sliced turkey, emulating the intestinal wall.

Surely this will get to the bottom of the mystery.  I will check on progress in a few days.  I’m positive the results will vindicate my hunch.  (That, and maybe a perusal of medical journals….) And I, the B.S.-buster, will reign supreme.

More updates as events warrant…


700 Square Feet of Sculptures

Ahhh, good old aluminum foil. No tinker’s workshop is complete without a roll of at least one of the elements on the periodic table.

Here at the DHDC, we’ve been using the materials from the Guild to spark visitor interactions. This week, our explainers have been busy sharing aluminum foil pieces with museum guests and asking the open-ended question “What can you make?”

This was so popular with the explainers that it quickly became a regular occurrence in our Science Cafe, where visitors used table space to craft their little hearts out. Some visitors could be persuaded to leave their creations with us so we could put them on display, so a wall of fame was born.

And it grew and grew.

I showed some children how to “cast” items in aluminum by pressing the foil over a surface.

Some children found interesting things to cast.

And those creations turned out to be pretty robust.

Then, the aluminum foil facilitators began to wander around the museum. They discovered that visitors could be coaxed to make aluminum foil T-Rex claws, which prompted many children to play dramatically in our traveling dinosaur exhibit. These wildly slashing dinosaur children turned out to be very difficult to photograph.

Pretty soon, the claws were a meme within the Discovery Center. Now, no matter where we gave the children aluminum foil, they made dinosaur claws for their fingers. Even if we weren’t in the dinosaur exhibit, and even when we didn’t provide instructions on how to make claws, the children made what they saw other children had made.


And they remained just as difficult to photograph as before.

Well, the next day we gave no instruction and returned to saying “What can you make?” We got no dinosaur claws, and everything was a surprise again. Guess what this dude is making:

While his sister made a wallet.

The summer camp kids got in on the action. This little gal made a line of accessories to help her dress up like a witch, which included long fingernails and a magical bracelet.

The boy behind her proved you’re never too young to chuck the deuces in the back of a photo. He retrieved his aluminum foil dagger and crown, and an epic battle unfurled.

This raged on for quite some time, and I was lucky to escape without injury while capturing the action.

We learned a lot about facilitating an open-ended creative activity, and we became more aware of how the surroundings often dictate the products our visitors make. I think we’ll continue to work with aluminum foil to hone these skills in the coming weeks.

Foiled Again! Again!

Man, museum educators much be a bunch of hungry, hungry hippos.  I’ve seen a definite theme in this week’s challenge, and it sure looks delicious!  Since I hadn’t looked at the website before embarking on my own exploration, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a lot of folks were also thinking about foil as a cooking material.

My husband Daniel and I have often talked about cooking food while driving long distances.  Evidently a large community of people online also share this curiosity: they have published their perfected means of cooking on the road.  Some strap foil packs to motorcycle exhaust pipes, while others use the car cab as a giant solar cooker.  We opted for another method: cooking on our 2002 Corrolla’s engine block.

First, we made a pouch with three layers of foil.  I rolled the sides up really well to ensure liquids couldn’t escape.

We opted for chicken filets, frozen peas, and onion as ingredients.  I’d suggest using foods with a large margin of error; our onions were a little underdone by the time we finished our project.  Frozen vegetables work very well!  Pre-cooked meats or small portions of raw meat would be best, if you’re an omnivore like us.  We lightly coated the ingredients in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Be very sparing with your liquid content!  We had a sauce for the chicken that we wanted to use–it came in an individually sealed plastic sack.  Since we were really worried about liquid seeping out and burning off on the exhaust manifold, we kept the sauce in the plastic and stuck it into the packet wholesale to avoid seepage.

Next, you need to figure out where to place your fancy foil packet.  Since we couldn’t locate an infrared thermometer, we used the next best thing: spit and a finger.  After singing my fingers several times, I (eventually, after driving an hour only to find a cold pack of meat) found that the exhaust manifold was the optimal spot on Ol’ Faithful’s block.

The above photo is of the first, failed spot for the pack.  I originally chose the “air cleaner” for a cooking surface because it sat higher than the manifold.  I wanted to really squish the food into place so it wouldn’t slide out at 80 miles an hour.  As noted above, halfway through our drive we discovered it to not be a great conductor.  Truth be told, it made me feel better about the construction of our Toyota!

On top of the pack, we made large, loosely wadded-up balls of foil.  The idea is that once you slam the hood, the balls will squish down and hold the meat in place.  If you’re really nervous, make a foil cone to place on your surface.  Slam the hood on the cone and use its height to determine how large your foil balls need to be.  Your pack and foil balls need to be as high or higher than the profile of the squished cone.

Once in place, drive!  Our meat finished cooking after about an hour of highway driving.

Delicious, delicious results.

Engine block cooking is a great way to make lunch and benefit from the co-generative properties of a somewhat inefficient machine.  On an upcoming trip to Amarillo (hello, DHDC!), we’re going to make hot dogs and try to find a way to toast buns.  That is, if we aren’t too full from steak at the Big Texan.

Let me know if you try this project!

-Adrienne from the Oklahoma Museum Network

Scientific tin-foil

This past week I got to take a tour of a very special place, LIGO, in Louisiana. LIGO stands for laser interferometer gravitational wave observatory, and the scientists there are looking for perturbations in space time by pointing extremely powerful lasers through huge vacuum tubes several miles long. By comparing the length of the laser through two different arms, the scientists are hoping to see a ripple in space emanating from massive stellar collisions. The photo above shows just a tiny piece of their enormous, cutting edge, and very spiffy equipment.

The other thing that’s interesting about Louisiana’s LIGO is that they have an awesome education center populated by Exploratorium exhibits.

The other thing that’s interesting about them (and now I’m getting to the point here), is that they use tin foil all over the place, and not just any tin foil, expensive scientist tinfoil that lacks the thin film of oil which ordinary tinfoil is coated with to prevent it from sticking to itself. When I asked one of the scientists what the tin foil was for she said something along the lines of “I don’t know, some people around here just seem to think everything should be wrapped in tin foil.” Hmm…. strange, but interesting.

Marble Optics

One of the many many things I love about marbles is the way they interact with light. When taking the marble photos for the blog banner it was almost all I could think about. If you refresh the page you can see all three of them, taken with Exploratorium exhibits as light sources. Clearish marbles also act like fish eye lenses, taking a large section of the world around them and flipping it upside down in a strange distorted way. Here’s a particularly striking example of a very large and perfectly clear sphere. The girl holding it is an Explainer I met at a rural museum in Egypt. Even ordinary clear marbles behave like this, but I just love this photo.

Guinness Bubbles

Not all bubbles are made of soap. You can find bubbles in any number of substances, such as shampoo, bubble gum, the stock market, and, most importantly, beer. I say beer bubbles are important because brewers spend a lot of time fussing over them, and they are, apparently, very important in determining the taste and mouth feel of a beer. For those of you that are old enough to go to bars and enough of a beer snob to pay attention to mouth feel, you have probably noticed that Guinness has very unusual bubbles for a beer. They are made of nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide, and when Guinness is poured into a pint glass the bubbles go down instead of up. That’s very unusual behavior for a bunch of bubbles. After noticing this the other night and spending the evening discussing why this might be I finally found a website devoted specifically to this phenomena. The short answer is that the bubbles in Guinness actually do rise in the center, and there are so many of them rising that they push the liquid at the edges of the glass downward, but click here for a longer more satisfying answer with pretty videos to go with it.