• Science, Engineering and Peregrine Falcons

    Posted by Kevin Molohon on 6/28/2019 10:00:00 AM


    Science, Engineering and Peregrine Falcons

    What’s better - a scientist or an engineer?”

    As a science teacher, I get asked this question a lot. I understand my students asking this question. Everyone wants to know what is best. It is kind of like the “If a lion and a tiger had a fight, which one would win?” question. Well it really isn’t a question of which is better. Science and engineering have different goals, but they also complement each other. I think that neither one would be very useful without the other. Let’s look at science first.


    Science is all about trying to understand how the natural world works. Scientists ask questions and then they try to find the answers to those questions. Scientists try to find the underlying rules that explain everything in the natural world. Scientists do this by asking questions, doing experiments, collecting data, and sharing their findings with other scientists. Scientists use all of this information to  create laws and theories. Laws state simple relationships in nature, while theories are attempts to explain how all of the evidence and laws fit together. Think of theories as BIG PICTURE explanations. The process of science is always changing as scientists discover new things that can’t be explained by existing theories. Science is always in a state of “This is our best explanation so far….”.

    Engineering is all about finding solutions to problems. Engineers make things. Want a nice way to get across a river? Wel, an engineer created things like the boat and bridges. Pretty much everything in your life has been created by some type of engineer. Do you like toast? Well, that toaster that you used to make it was designed by an engineer. Do you have a great pair of shoes? Well, engineers designed everything from the different materials that go into them to the machines that were used to produce them. 

    So, it sounds like a pretty easy answer to our original question - right?! Engineers impact our lives in so many more ways than scientists. Well, it isn’t as easy as that. Engineering relies on science and science relies on engineering. Let me explain. Scientists studied birds to learn how they can fly. The learned all about bird anatomy and the physics of flight. From what they learned , they came up with the principles of flight (look up Bernoulli’s Principle). Engineers then put their efforts into finding solutions for humans being able to fly. Engineers tok the principles that scientists had discovered and applied them to the design of the first airplanes and they eventually were successful in gettings humans flying.. From there, engineers worked on different, improved designs for airplanes that used different materials (made by engineers who used the knowledge gained by chemists). Eventually they came up with the airplanes that you see today. None of this would have happened without science and engineering working together,but it does not end there, just like engineers use the things that scientists learn to make their cool inventions, scientists use the things that engineers make to improve their study of science.

    Scientists studied birds and learned the principles of flight. THen engineers used those principles and created the first airplanes. Well, scientists can use those airplanes to learn more about the natural world. They can take pictures of they can take pictures of the surface of the earth and learn about plate tectonics. They can fly to remote areas and learn about the animals and plants that live there. When scientists and engineers work together, the possibilities are endless and we are only limited by our imaginations.  Now let’s finally get to the Peregrine Falcons.

    Peregrine falcons are the fastest flying birds on Earth. When they dive for prey, the can reach speeds of 242 miles per hour. There are many features on a peregrine falcon that make it able to fly at high speeds - everything from its wingspan and shape to its feather design. Engineers have been building planes for a long time and they wondered what about the peregrine falcon allowed it to go so fast (and stay under control) and if that knowledge could help them design even faster planes and jets. Scientists studied peregrine falcons more. Specifically, they looked at how they dive at high speeds and catch prey. A peregrine falcon has to make a very precise dive in order to catch its prey. If the trajectory (flight path) is even a little off, Peregrines can lose control and start to tumble (not a good thing at 242 miles  ). Somehow Peregrine falcons can realise that their flight is unstable and they can adjust their flight to fix it. Scientist studied this and they found out that Peregrine falcons have a special set of feathers that help them remain stable in flight at those high speeds. These feathers are called sensory feathers, The sensory feathers are small feathers located at the back side of the wings. These feathers are attached to nerves cells that send information to the brain of the bird telling it when needs to adjust its flight. Scientists want to mimic this on planes by designing a covering for the wings of planes that has sensors all over it that would give the pilot real-time airflow information that would help the pilot control the plane. There are also other things about how peregrine falcons use their wings to control their flight that might lead to changes in wing designs on planes in the future, too.

    So let’s recap: Scientists studied birds to learn the rules , or principles, that governed flight. Engineers took these principles and came up with the airplane and humans could fly. Engineers continued to improve the airplane and we now have all of the incredible flying machines that you see now. Engineers wondered how Peregrine falcons could fly so fast and maneuver so well at such high speeds. Scientists studied the falcons and discovered how they could do this and engineers are looking at using this knowledge to make even faster, more maneuverable planes. Let’s face it, science and engineering make beautiful music together!

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  • Earwax, Whales and Stress

    Posted by Kevin Molohon on 6/18/2019 4:05:00 PM

    Hi! Welcome to this summer’s first blog posting! I am doing these posts so that my new students can get a chance to get to know me and to learn some cool stuff about science and engineering. Anyone who reads these posts can , hopefully, get something of value from them, too. Feel free to post comments and to give me suggestions for future topics. My goal is to post a new entry each week. Now on to today’s topic…….


    Earwax, Whales and Stress

    Earwax, or cerumen, as it is known in the medical field, is a yellowish, orangish, brownish substance that is secreted in the ear canals of mammals. It helps to lubricate the ear and protect it from bacteria and fungi. Earwax builds up in the ear over time and it can tell you a whole bunch of things about the mammal that it is in.


    This brings us to the subject of Whales. Whales are mammals, so they make and secrete earwax. The earwax the make serves the same purpose that it serves in any other mammal: to protect the ear. The only difference with whales is that they produce a lot of earwax - the plugs can be over 1.5 feet long and weigh over 2 pounds. Scientist read the layers of these earwax plugs (kind of like reading rings in trees) and they can learn all kinds of things about the environment and how it changed over the lifetime of the whale. Being able to learn about environmental changes over time by looking at earwax is pretty cool all by itself, but scientists have taken it even further - they can tell you how the changes affected the whales during their lifetimes. It all comes down to cortisol.


    Cortisol is a hormone that mammals (including humans) release during times of stress. When a mammal senses danger, the brain releases cortisol. Cortisol, along with another hormone, adrenaline gets the body ready to “fight or flee”. This system is necessary as a response to danger, but it is not meant to be “on” indefinitely. Stress, and our stress response are generally bad for us (all mammals). Once the danger is over, it is important to get back to normal, low cortisol levels.


    Stephen Trumble, a comparative physiologist at Baylor University, and his colleagues studied the earwax plugs of whales, specifically, they wanted to see the effects human activities have had on whales. What they found was amazing. The earwax of whales showed increased levels of cortisol during the years that whaling was high (from the 1800s to 1970) AND it showed a drop in cortisol levels in 1970 when whaling was strictly regulated. Somehow the whales were aware of the danger when whaling was running rampant and they were equally aware when it stopped. Human behavior had direct and immediate impact on the stress levels of whales. They found further evidence of the human.whale stress connection during the times of the World Wars. The bombs, depth charges, submarine warfare, etc. - all of it led to increased levels of cortisol in whales. One final thing of note - they have also found a connection between the level of cortisol in whales and the increase in the temperature of the ocean.


    There you have it. Earwax - that sticky, yucky gunk that falls out of your ears, can actually tell you a lot about the world around you. It can also tell you a lot about how the changes in the world around you affected you. It kind of makes you see things like earwax in a different light. What other things that we just don’t take notice of cnad actually tell us a lot about ourselves, the world around us and how we are affecting it?

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  • Chirality Is Not Dead

    Posted by Kevin Molohon on 7/18/2018


    I decided to try something different this week. I wanted to make a change. Nothing earth shattering, just a change that I had been contemplating for a while. I decided to wear my watch on my right hand wrist instead of my left. That may not sound like much - switch from one wrist to the other - what next? Take over the world?! Well, I thought the same thing. Here is the deal - I am left-handed and I have been wearing my watch on my left wrist because that is where everyone else seems to wear it. The only problem with that is that most everyone else is right-handed. In fact,  10% of the population in the world is left-handed. But even though we make up 10 % of the population, we left- handers are a forgotten lot. Don’t believe me? Try using a scissors. When a right-hander uses a pair of scissors they are designed so that the blades push together, when I use a scissors, the blades push apart from each other! How about if you want to “compliment” someone, but you don’t really mean it - that is called a left-handed compliment. Hey, it gets worse. Back in the 18th Century, being left-handed was enough to get a woman declared a witch. In the 19th Century,  physician Cesare Lambroso, who identified various facial and racial characteristics with criminal traits, turned his attention to handedness and he identified left-handedness as a mark of pathological behaviour, savagery and criminality. This stuff even continued into the 20th Century. Up until the 1970’s left-handedness was considered a crime in many countries of the world. WHile not illegal here in the US, schools still tried to punish and shame left-handers into writing with their right hands. Seriously, why all the hate? Isn’t it bad enough that I smear everything that I write because my hand goes over it after I write something? Isn’t it enough that one-half of the Beatles (the greatest rock group EVER) were left-handed?

    Well, I was feeling pretty bad about all of this until I sat down to read “THe Disappearing Spoon” by Sam Kean. In this book, he talks about the Periodic Table of the elements (it is a super cool book). In one section he talks about Chirality. CHirality is a property of matter and it is really important in science.Basically, if something is chiral, it means that you can’t superimpose it on its mirror image. If you can superimpose someone on its mirror image, it is said to be achiral. A simple example of a chirality  would be to hold up your hands, palms facing you, in front of you eyes. Your hands are mirror images of each other, If you slide them together and put one hand on top of the other (keep both palms facing you!), you will find that you can’t superimpose them. You get a thumb on each side. Here is a picture to help you out:


    When something is chiral, scientists call one form of it right-handed and the mirror image of it left-handed. It gets really interesting when you get into the chemistry of every living thing on the planet. Biochemicals are the chemicals of live  - you know these as amino acids, DNA and proteins. Well, DNA encodes for amino acid sequences and amino acids sequences make proteins and the way that the amino acids combine determine how the proteins fold together and the shape of the proteins determines its purpose. If you have blue eyes, it is because of the shape of the protein(s) that were encoded in your DNA. Well, biochemicals are chiral. When the amino acids combine one way, the resulting protein is right-handed and when they are combine the opposite way, the resulting protein is left-handed. Both proteins are identical in every way, they are just mirror images of each other. Well, here is where left-handers can stand up and cheer - it ends up that practically all of the chemicals of life (DNA, amino acids, proteins) are LEFT-HANDED. That’s right, at the core of your being, you are left-handed! I am beginning to think that left-handers are the only people who are in touch with their inner selves. Maybe you right-handers are all just in denial.

    One last note - about my watch debale. I tried it on my right hand and my watch band kept breaking on me. After f oru frustrating days, I went back to my watch on my left wrist. So far, so good. In my own small way, I am trying to help right-handers feels better about themselves.

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  • Lessons Learned From A Car

    Posted by Kevin Molohon on 7/6/2018 10:20:00 AM

    Lessons Learned From A Car


    I was walking a friend’s dog while she was test driving a few cars and, when I walked around the dealership to the back (where the employees park their cars), I spotted it - the car in the picture above. It was painted black and the owner had attached all kinds crazy things to it. THe first thing that I noticed were the horns. Then I saw the nitrous tank, the pull cord form a leaf blower and the rocket lights on top. My first thoughts were “Why would someone do this to their car?” and “I would never be caught dead driving this around!”.  These were quickly followed by “Who in their right mind would drive this?” and “ I would never be able to do this and drive this car around - it would stand out too much!”. Then it got me thinking. Who would drive around a car decked out like this? How come they could do something that I wouldn’t dream of doing? What did this person have that I didn’t when it came to doing this? What was different about our personalities?


        According the the Personality Project (https://www.personality-project.org/ ),  personality is the

    “coherent patterning of affect, cognition, and desires (goals) as they lead to behavior. To study personality is to study how people feel, how they think, what they want, and finally, what they do. That people differ from each other in all four of these domains is obvious. How and why they differ is less clear and is an important part of the study of personality. “

    Basically, everything about a person is determined by their personality. If you do a little research, you will find out that there all all kinds of ideas out there about personality and personality types. You can even take tests to see what your personality type is and what it means (the web site above has an extensive test that you can take for free). You may find out that you are an extrovert or an introvert, you may find out that you are a thinker or a creator or something in between. For me, the fascinating thing is that there are so many different types of personalities. I like that there is such variety. You can learn alot about yourself by finding out your own personality type and you can learn alot by interacting with all different types of personalities. They say that variety is the spice of life, well you can’t ask for any more variety than what we can find in the different types of personalities that people have.


    After all of this research, I have come up with one conclusion. I would really like to meet the owner of this car! It would be so cool to see hwat they are like and I bet that I could learn alot from him/her.


    P.S. I have an assignment for my new students - DON”T PANIC - it is a cool one and you can get a head start on your classmates by doing it now. REcently I came across something called “Faces In Places”. It is all about finding faces in everyday things around you. Here are some examples of what I mean:






    Look around you and see what faces you can discover. Don’t doctor things up, just take pictures of things as you find them. E-mail your best pictures to me and I will post them in an upcoming blog entry.

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  • Senseless Science

    Posted by Kevin Molohon on 6/15/2018 10:00:00 AM

    Senseless Science


    Humans are always making observation and collecting data about the world around them.  You can’t help it - your senses are always on and they are always sending information to your brain. It doesn’t matter if you are awake or asleep, your senses , and your brain, are always on. THis isn’t a bad thing. Your brain takes all of the information form the senses and it makes sense of it (no pun intended). Our brains take all of the myriad of sense information that is constantly being sent to it and it looks for patterns and meaning. All in all, it is a pretty great system, but at times things can get interesting.

    Your brain is sorting through information that is coming from your 5 senses - taste, touch, sight, sound and smell. Any situation can involve any, or all, of your senses. Your brain, while incredible, has its limits. It is impossible to look at all of the information at the same time and treat it all equally.  In fact , the way your brain is wired, ou automatically places more importance on some senses than others. Thirty percent of your brain is devoted to sight, eight percent for touch and just three percent for hearing and under three percent for taste and smell. What does this all mean? It means that if your brain gets conflicting messages from different senses, it will rely on the sense more that uses more of the brain. The best way to show you this is through the McGurk Effect.

    The McGurk Effect is where your brain relies more on sight information than it does on sound information. Basically, you can hear a sound, but, if the visual information does not match the sound, your brain will change the sound to match what you are seeing.  Here is a link to a video that show the effect in action: https://youtu.be/G-lN8vWm3m0 . In the video, a man is saying “Bah...Bah….Bah”  and his mouth is clearly making the motions to make that sound, then they put up a second video with the same “Bah” sound, but the man is clearly moving his mouth in a “Fah...Fah...Fah” motion. WHen you watch this, you actually hear the man saying “Fah”, when he is actually saying “Bah”. WHen you close your eyes, you clearly hear the “Bah” sound. Your brain gets conflicting information and it relies on the visual information more because, to your brain, that is the more important information.

    This phenomenon even happens within a given sense. I am sure you have heard about the whole Yanni versus Laurel thing.  Some students were writing a paper and wanted to get the correct pronunciation of the name Laurel and, when people heard it some heard Laurel and others heard Yanni. The reason this happened was that we all hear things differently. Some people’s brains tend to focus on high frequency sounds more and other people’s brains tend to focus on low frequency sounds more. Depending on which type you are, you hear either Yanni or Laurel. Here is a link to the audio file. Check it out for yourself:



    To make things even more crazy, you don’t actually see with your eyes, you don’t actually taste with our tongue. What you senses do is send electrical signals to your brain. Your brain goes over the signals and actually makes sense of what they mean and then you actually see something or smell something ro hear something. For example, information from your ears goes to the hearing part of the brain, information from your eyes goes to the seeing part of the brain. In fact, Paul Bach-y-Rita, a scientist form the University of Wisconsin, came up with the novel idea that, even though your sense organs might not work, that your brain centers for the senses still existed and they still worked. This led him to look for other ways to get sensory information to the brain. For example, you get your sense of balance through your inner ear. Your brain uses information sent from your inner ear to tell you which way is up. There are people who have damaged their inner ears and they have no sense of balance. Basically, they always feel like  they are falling down. Bach-Y_Rita designed a system where these people would wear a helmet that had gyroscopes attached to it and a sensor that you placed on your tongue. When your head tipped forward, the front of the sensor would tingle, when your head tipped backwards, the back would tingle. Basically, they were trying to get information to the balance part of the brain through the taste buds. Well, it ended up working. Almost instantly, the people all had their balance back. WHen they removed the helmets, the sense of balance remained for a while. OVer weeks of training, the sense of balance would remain longer and longer after the helmet was removed and, eventually, the patients kept their sense of balance all of the time even with the helmet removed! Since then, they have gone on to show that this works for other senses like sight as well.


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  • Tabby's Star

    Posted by Kevin Molohon on 8/3/2017 3:10:00 PM

    Tabby’s Star – Science in Action

    Scientists, specifically astronomers, study the stars. Hopefully there is nothing earth shattering in that last sentence. I am sure that you have heard about all of the exoplanets (planets not going around our Sun) that have been discovered and that many of those exoplanets could have Earth-Like living conditions. Have you ever wondered how scientists can know so much about stars that are so far away? Well, it all has to do with the energy that stars give off. Stars emit energy along the electromagnetic spectrum. The spectrum includes radio waves, ultraviolet radiation, visible light (the colors that we can see), infrared radiation, x-rays and gamma rays, to name a few. Scientists can look at stars in all of these energies/wavelengths and learn about them. They can learn how fast they are travelling, how far away they are, what they are made out of and so much more. Today I want to focus on visible light, Tabby’s Star and the Alien Mega-Structure Hypothesis.

            One of the things that scientists use visible light for is to see if there are planets going around a star. It is a pretty simple thing to do. You point a light meter at a star and keep it there, all the time collecting data about the amount of light being given off by the star. When there is nothing between the detector and the star, you get a reading of the amount of light that the star is giving off. If a planet is orbiting the star and it moves between the detector and the star, then you get a drop-off in the amount of light that is being detected. Here is what the data looks like to the scientists:


    The light that is being detected is normally a flat line, but when a planet (or something else passes between the star and the detector, the line dips down. What is really cool is that scientists can look at the dip in the graph and find out things like how big is the planet and how long does it take the planet to go around the star. All that because the amount of light being detected changed! I think that I am getting a little bit ahead of myself. Let me explain…….

    When scientists first saw a graph like the one above, they didn’t know what was going on. They noticed that the amount of light being detected was going on, but that was it. They had to figure out what was going on. They had to come up with ideas for the solution and then figure out ways to either prove or disprove their ideas. The ideas for solutions are what we would call hypotheses and the ways to prove or disprove their hypotheses are what we would call experiments. Until proven false, every hypothesis has to be considered as possibly being the answer and that brings me to Tabby’s Star and the Alien Mega-Structure Hypothesis.

            Star KIC 8462852, or Tabby’s Star, is located in the constellation Cygnus approximately 1,280 light-years from Earth. It was first discovered in 2015 when scientists were looking at the light from stars and trying to find exoplanets (they were looking for graphs like the one earlier in the blog).  What they actually got was a graph like this:



    Scientists were blown away by the amount of times that the star got dimmer and by how the different times had different values. Sometimes the star dims by more than 20% and stays dim for weeks at a time. What could possibly explain this data? Here are a few of the hypotheses being put forward:

    • Tabby’s Star would have a huge planet orbiting it and this huge planet could have asteroids orbiting it (moons) and also it could have rings like Saturn.
    • There could be a huge ring of dust way out in space left over from when our Sun formed and this could be blocking the light from Tabby’s Star.
    • Tabby’s Star could be the cause for the dimming. Maybe there is something about Tabby’s Star that affects the ability of the energy to get from the core to the surface.
    • This data could be evidence of an advanced alien civilization. If Aliens built a massive structure around a star (a great way to get all of the energy that you will ever need, by the way), that would explain what the star’s brightness keeps changing. Here is an artist’s rendition of what it could look like:


    These are all valid hypotheses (explanations) about what is going on with Tabby’s Star. Until you can disprove any of them, all of them might be true. Scientist are using all kinds of different telescopes to look at Tabby’s Star in all kinds of different wavelengths to collect all kinds of data. The new data will lead to new findings and the hypotheses have to be able to explain the new findings. If a hypothesis can’t explain the new data, then it is disproved and it isn’t considered as a possible solution. Until then, there is a chance that Tabby’s Star is a sign that intelligent life exists out there in the Universe.

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  • Genetically Modified Organisms

    Posted by Kevin Molohon on 7/26/2017 3:35:00 PM

    Genetically Modified Organisms – Part 1

    It has been estimated that 700,000 worldwide die from Vitamin A deficiency every year. Another 300,000 go blind. Wouldn’t it be great if you could change that? Just imagine how rewarding it would be if you were the scientist who came up with a way to solve this problem. Well, science has come up with a solution, but it ends up being a solution that nobody wants to try. The solution is transgenic, or genetically modified, organisms.

            Transgenic organisms are organisms (plants or animals) that have genes form other organisms put into their DNA. That’s right, transgenic organisms are genetically modified organisms. Scientists have learned enough about DNA and gene splicing that they can take a gene from one organism and put it in another organism. We can pick and choose what traits we want organisms to have. Let me give you some examples of transgenic organisms that exist right now:


    1. Golden BananasGolden Bananas
    • The East African Highland cooking banana is the major staple food in Uganda. (NOTE: A staple food is one that is the majority of what someone eats.) It is a good source of starch, but not much else. Scientists took a gene from a different kind of banana that was rich in Vitamin A and inserted it into the East African Banana and they made a version that is rich in Vitamin A. The only obvious difference between the two is that the new banana is golden – orange on the inside instead of cream-colored.
    1. Golden RiceGolden Rice

    Rice is a staple food all over the world and scientists wanted to prevent diseases and blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency (much like with the Golden Banana) by adding genes to rice from plants that are rich in Vitamin A. The resulting Golden Rice can provide 60% of a person’s daily Vitamin A requirements in just one bowl!

    1. Bt CornBt Corn

    Insects are a major threat to crops. In order to combat them, farmers spray insecticides on their crops. These insecticides can get into the water supply and contaminate it. With Bt corn, scientists have taken the gene for producing insect toxins from a bacteria and put it into the genome of the corn. The corn now produces the insecticide inside its cells.




    It doesn’t have to be just plants; you can modify animals, too.

    1. Transgenic SalmonTransgenic Salmon

    Many people eat salmon. It is a major food source around the world. The only problem is that salmon take a long time to grow. Part of the problem is its own genetics, it just grows at a slow rate and the other is that during the cold winter months, its metabolism slows down and it eats less (and doesn’t grow as much). The solution is to take a growth hormone gene from one fish and an antifreeze gene from another and insert them into the Atlantic Salmon’s DNA. You end up with a salmon that keeps growing and keeps eating year round (The two salmon in the picture are the same age. The large one is transgenic and the smaller one is a normal, unmodified salmon.).

    1. Spider Silk Producing GoatsGoat

    Spider silk is one of the strongest substances known to humans. It is stronger than Kevlar (the bullet proof vest material). The problem is that we can’t mass produce spider silk using spiders (no spider farms out there). No problem – scientist took the silk producing gene from a spider and put it into the DNA of a goat. The result – a goat that produces spider silk in its milk!


    1. Glow in the Dark AnimalsRabbit Cat


    Alright, so I know this one sounds weird, but I swear it is true. The end goal is to have animals produce medicines that people can use. You do that by putting the medicine producing gene into the genome of the cat or rabbit. Now it isn’t easy to cut genes, transfer them to another organism and splice them together, so you want to make sure that your procedure works. One way to do this is to practice transferring genes that are easy to see when they are successfully transferred and that is why scientists transplanted a gene for glowing from a sea weed into animals like rabbits and cats.


    Wow! Pretty impressive - right?! There really is no limit to what science and engineering can do. The list of genetically modified organisms is much longer, but I just wanted to give you a taste of it. This week’s blog entry is just my way of showing you what we can do and what endless possibilities there are for genetic engineering. Next week, I will point out some of the down side to all that we can do and show you what as huge responsibility we have we do it.

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  • Science and Serendipity

    Posted by Kevin Molohon on 7/18/2017 2:55:00 PM

    Serendipity and Science

            Have you ever heard the saying “Opposites attract”? Lots of times it is used with people. Like when two people are in a relationship together and they are totally different from each other. They seem to have nothing in common and yet they are a couple. I can’t vouch for the truth of this saying as far as relationships go (although, my wife has plenty of differences from me – but I would say that we are similar in all of the important things), but I can vouch for it in science.

    We see this relationship in science all of the time. For example, protons have a positive charge and electrons have a negative charge. Guess what? – they are attracted to each other! Magnets are another example – bar magnets have a north and a south pole. The north pole of one magnet will be attracted to the south pole of another one. I think the bottom line in this working in science has to do with charge relationships in particles. But what does all of this have to do with Serendipity and Science? Let’s take a look at both of these terms, starting with science.

    Science is a way of knowing and learning about the world. Scientists design controlled experiments to learn about how the world works. I would argue that science is far from a chance-filled, random and chaotic endeavor. While it is true that many times scientists have unexpected results, but the process of science is well thought out and designed. In fact, the more well thought out and designed the experiment, the more meaningful the unexpected results are. A sloppy experiment just leads to sloppy results.

    Serendipity is defined as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”. Just think of serendipity as something good happening all by itself. It is like winning the lottery – well, actually it is better than that, it is like finding a lottery ticket on the street and it ends up being the winning one. You didn’t even buy the ticket and yet you still won! Serendipity is the ultimate good luck!

    I think it is safe to say that science and serendipity are the opposite of each other. Science is a well-thought out and designed way to learn about the world and serendipity is just good luck – something good happening by chance. Is it possible for serendipity and science to co-exist? Is it possible for serendipity and science to flourish together? Can these two opposites actually go together? I think the answer all of these questions is…… YES! When a scientist designs and runs a good experiment, s/he is ready for when the unexpected happens. When you know what you are looking for in an experiment, the unexpected really stands out. It is like the great microbiologist Louis Pasteur once said “Chance favors the prepared mind”. But you don’t have to take my word for it; there are lots of great examples of science and serendipity working together. Here are a few……

    • The microwave oven was invented when a Raytheon engineer named Percy Spencer was working with some energy sources for radar equipment. Things were going as expected until he realized that the chocolate bar in his pants was melting.
    • In 1896, Antoine Henri Becquerel was experimenting with x-rays. He hypothesized that if you shone sunlight on uranium you could make it emit x-rays and these x-rays would show up on photographic film. A few cloudy days in a row caused him to put his film and uranium in a closed drawer. A few days later, he took his supplies out of the drawer. The film wasn’t good for his experiment any more, but he developed it anyways. To his surprise he found that the film had been exposed to x-rays and he realized that the uranium, itself, was emitting the x-rays.
    • Penicillin was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming. Fleming was working on influenza viruses. He left on a 2 week vacation and, when he came back, he noticed that mold had grown on one of his cultures. Upon closer inspection, nothing was growing in the region around the mold.


    There are countless other examples that I could show you. The point is that if you do a good job with the science part of things, the serendipity (the good luck) is more likely to happen AND be noticed by you. When you are designing your Honors Project, you need to take the time to really think about what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. You need to have a clear idea of what to expect in your experiment in order to be able to notice the  serendipity happening.

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  • Finding Your Honors Project Topic

    Posted by Kevin Molohon on 7/10/2017 10:55:00 AM

    Finding Your Honors Project Topic

    This week, I want to take a break from talking about a new science to go into a little more detail about the Honors Project that you will be doing this year in class. As you know, the “Honors” part of Honors Physical Science is the Honors Project. The Honors Project is where you get to do authentic science and engineering. The Honors Project was born from the idea that an advanced science course should have more science in it. I won’t lie to you – the project is a lot of work, but, if you choose the right topic, you won’t mind it so much. That is the key feature of the project – YOU get to decide what your topic will be.

        Choosing a topic is probably the hardest part of the whole project. When you have the Universe to choose from, it can be hard to narrow it down to one area. That being said, if you really put the work in and find a topic that interests you, you won’t mind doing all of the work because you are interested in finding out the answer. If you just pick something to get it over with, you will hate the entire process. That is why I want you to spend some time over the summer looking for areas that interest you. You don’t have to have your exact topic decided by the start of school (that would be great, though). As long as you have some ideas, I can help you find your topic. To that end, I have found some web resources that you should look over. As you go through them, write down any things that catch your eye, anything that you think is kind of cool or anything that makes you come up with further questions. Feel free to e-mail me and share your ideas (Kevin.Molohon@ahschools.us). Have fun!


    NOTE: One last thing, you cannot find a project online and just do it (that wouldn’t be original research), you can use things that you find as a starting point, but you need to go further with your project.


    Science News (great sight that showcases current fields of scientific research.)



    Science Buddies Topic Selection Wizard (answer some questions, get some topic idea suggestions)


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  • Engineering

    Posted by Kevin Molohon on 7/5/2017 1:10:00 PM


            A big goal of my class is to teach you what science is all about – how it works, what it looks like, what it can do and what it can’t do.  If I accomplished just that, our class would be a huge success. But, I want to go even further than that. I also want to teach you about engineering and what it is all about - how it works, what it looks like, what it can do and what it can’t do.  This week’s blog is a short introduction to engineering. Enjoy!

            Scientists study the natural world. They want to know what rules, or laws, control how the natural world works.  That is why scientists do carefully designed experiments. That is why they share their findings with other scientists. Scientists are always looking better understand the world around them.

            Engineers are problem solvers. They try to find applications for the science that the scientists have discovered. For example, chemists (scientists who study chemistry) have learned a great deal about the nature of the atom and the elements that make up the Periodic Table. Chemical Engineers take that knowledge and try to make new materials from those elements. Thanks to chemists and chemical engineers, we now have things like the following:

    • ultra-hydrophobic materials
    • Nitinol: a metal that has memory. It actually remembers its original shape and it will go back to it when it is heated up.
    • Magnetic Plasticine: a silly putty-like material that is drawn to magnets almost as if it were alive.

    The list goes on and on, but don’t take my word for it, check out this video:



    Engineers also invent new things, For example, scientists studied how birds can fly and they learned the science behind flight. Engineers took that knowledge and made the first airplane. The cool thing is that now scientists can use the engineers inventions to learn more science. For example, scientists use plans to study weather. If you want to see some really cool inventions, check out this site: https://youtu.be/xsZLVN2iriE

    When you are looking for your Honors Project idea, don’t forget to look at science AND engineering projects. You want to find an area that interests you. As you come up with ideas, or if you just have questions, please e-mail me (Kevin.Molohon@ahschools.org).  Catch you later!


    P.S. As long as I am sharing videos with you, I thought that I would share a really cool magic trick that tries to increase the order in the Universe (remember the entropy blog?). Check out this link and be prepared to be amazed:


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