August 28, 2014
What do kaleidoscopes have to do with Amish quilts?
Plenty, I just learned. I went to the Shelburne Museum (Shelburne, VT) yesterday and saw a great quilt exhibit, All Star Quilts: The John Wilmerding Collection that features Amish and Mennonite star-themed quilts dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The quilts featured the Star of Bethlehem design, one of the oldest and well known designs and one of the few to come from Europe to America (around 1855), according to quilting.com
Here’s the surprising part
The geometric designs were influenced by the symmetrical and colorful patterns that folks saw in kaleidoscopes. The kaleidoscope was invented in 1816 by Scottish physicist, Sir David Brewster who was interested in studying optics.
The kaleidoscope’s optical shapes are created by fragments of broken glass viewed through a rotating mirror-lined cylinder. The kaleidoscope (which means “beautiful form to see” in Greek) had a great effect on popular taste and culture and even spawned a phenomenon know as the “Fancy” style. “Fancy” quilt makers used cloth and thread to translate the complex designs they saw in the kaleidoscope. Who knew?
Kaleidoscopes: Science of Optics and Fun
The kaleidoscope is the result of Sir Brewster’s scientific study of optics which also included light prisms. However, we enjoy it as a fascinating toy. People find the patterns relaxing. Some even give it credit for healing through “color therapy.”
Crystal Light Prism
Use the kaleidoscope to explore patterns, color, reflection, light, mirrors and angles. Use a light prism and try to create a rainbow!
If you and your kids are looking for optics science projects or just want to enjoy some optical fun, check out our very beautiful kaleidoscope that is wrapped in leather (7″ long, 2′ wide) and our crystal light prism (made in the USA!). With care, both will last a very long time. Leave them out on the table so your kids (and adults) can enjoy them any time the mood strikes.
Next time, I’ll share some experiments you can do with light prisms!
Kaleidoscope Photo credit: krazydad / jbum / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
August 15, 2014
What’s a Heron’s Fountain? It dates back to ancient Greece and it’s a great water science project for kids. Heron of Alexandria (ca 62 AD) was an inventor, mathematician and physicist who invented what looks like a magic trick. It’s fun and an opportunity for kids to learn about gravity, air compression and vacuums. A great end-of-summer project and, as we get ready to go back to school, a great science fair project.
How does the Heron’s Fountain work?
You know what gravity is, right? You would think that water draining from a top bottle into a bottom bottle would just flow down and stay put. This experiment defies that logic (which is why it seems like a magic trick.) Essentially, a Heron’s Fountain uses compressed air to lift water to a point higher than the origin. This action is the same thing that moves water in fish tank filters and some types of coffee percolators.
How do you make a Heron’s Fountain?
Connect two bottles together with a plastic tube (with strategically placed holes) in each bottle. We’ve got the Fountain Connection (made in USA!) which has done all the drilling for you. Fill one of the bottles with water. When you turn it over, gravity pulls the water from the upper bottle into the bottom bottle and compresses the air in the bottom bottle. As the water leaves the upper bottle, it decreases the air pressure of that bottle and causes a partial vacuum. Then water is forced from the lower bottle, up the fountain tube and into the upper bottle, taking the place of the draining water. Voila! A fountain!
What do you need?
- 2 clean, clear plastic 2-liter bottles. The labels and bottom plastic mount (if it’s on) should be removed so you can see better but just make sure you have a stable base. Hint: I’ve heard that you can easily remove the labels and plastic mount with a hair dryer.
- The Fountain Connection – this includes the clear plastic tubes that you’ll need to make the experiment work.
- Water (or experiment with different liquids!)
- Food coloring (optional)
(Note: you can make a fountain connector and find and cut tubing yourself. The cap requires precise drilling to make sure you have an airtight seal and the correct holes in the tubing.)
More Heron’s Fountain science experiments
- What happens if you add color (red erupting volcano anyone?)
- What about blending colors? Red in bottom, blue in top?
- What happens if you use fluids other than water?
- What happens if you vary the amount of fluid in the bottle?
- What if you change the length of the tubes? (If you do cut them down, don’t cut on the end with the holes!)
- Try the vacuum and compression experiments illustrated on the back of the Fountain Connection package.
Another fun activity is to create a swirling tornado with the Tornado Tube (also made in the USA). It also uses 2 plastic bottles. This is a fun, hands-on demonstration of vortex action (think, tornadoes, whirlpools, water spouts.)
What are your favorite experiments?