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Groovy Earthquake Proof Skyscrapers

 Groovy Earthquake Proof Skyscrapers

“An earthquake is such fun when it is over.” – George Orwell

A long time ago, our ancestors believed earthquakes to be the act of the Gods. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, was the first to realise that earthquakes were more than an act of the Gods. To this day, STEMists continue to tame the devastating effects earthquakes have on human lives, buildings, roads, and power supplies.

How do people build structures that resist earthquake damage? Well, in the past it wasn’t really possible. The building materials available were limited to stone, brick, wood, thatch – none of them good for surviving earthquakes or high winds. Modern skyscrapers are made possible by modern building materials, especially steel.

What is steel?

Steel is iron mixed with other substances and/or given special treatments.  Carbon steel is iron mixed with carbon.  Depending on the amounts of each element, carbon steel can be brittle and hard like cast iron (e.g. a skillet) or soft and workable like wrought iron (think of a groovy iron gate.)

Wrought Iron Gate

Groovy Wrought Iron Gate

Alloy steel is iron mixed with other metals such as chromium, nickel, or vanadium.  The metals in the mix are chosen to make the iron stronger or lighter.  Tool steel is specially treated to be strong through a process called tempering.  The steel is quickly heated to a high temperature, quickly cooled (quenched) and heated again to a lower temperature.  Finally, stainless steel is mixed with high amounts of chromium and nickel to make it smooth, easy to clean and polish. Stainless steel is used for eating utensils and surgical instruments.

How do STEMists make buildings earthquake resistant?

The more lightweight and flexible a building is, the better it can withstand the lateral (sideways) forces of an earthquake.  Skyscrapers are built around a steel frame that supports the weight of the walls and floors.  Regular buildings use the walls to support the weight of the house or other structure, but in a skyscraper the weight of all those upper walls would be too much for the lower walls to support.  Steel makes tall buildings possible.

From the spire of the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai during construction

From the spire of the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai during construction

The foundation of a skyscraper is extremely important. Think of a pyramid with its wide base. Would it stand as well if turned upside down? Of course not!  Base-isolation, an engineering design, is used to prevent damage to buildings from the seismic impact from earthquakes. This technique where the bottom section of a building absorb the seismic waves of energy to prevent damage, was used as far back as the Mausoleum of Cyrus.

Mausoleum of Cyrus, the oldest base-isolated structure in the world

Mausoleum of Cyrus, the oldest base-isolated structure in the world

Skyscrapers are placed on a foundation designed to absorb vibrations from earthquakes.  Architects design flexible springs and cushioned cylinders to act as shock absorbers.  Think of the shock absorbers on a car.  Without proper shocks, the car would bounce dangerously as it moved over potholes or railroad crossings. The shocks keep all the tires on the ground despite bumps, just as a building’s foundation keeps the building from tipping or moving off the foundation.

Flexible springs and cushioned cylinders to act as shock absorbers

Architects design flexible springs and cushioned cylinders to act as shock absorbers.

A shake table is a device used to determine how well a building will react to earthquakes.  To see how well structures will react to earthquake shocks, building models are placed on massive outdoor shake tables and subjected to an array of ground motion energy.

Shake Table

Outdoor Shake Table

Burj Khalifa building in Dubai
The Burj Khalifa, the world’s largest skyscraper, is so tall the tip of the top sphere is visible from 95 kilometers away on a clear day. It has an enormous “mass dampener” or harmonic absorber. This is a device mounted inside skyscrapers to absorb vibrations that might otherwise damage the building. The aluminum used in the building weighs as much as five A380 aircraft and the concrete weighs as much as 100,000 elephants. The Burj Khalifa’s aesthetic and environmental design mimics the look of a hymenocallis flower with its shaped central spire while collecting 15 million gallons of water every year.

Burj Khalifa building in Dubai

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa building in Dubai

Design and Inspiration from Nature

Burj Khalifa compared with some other well-known tall structures

Burj Khalifa compared with some other well-known tall structures (not all pictured are, however, earthquake proof.)

Taipei 101 building in Taiwan

In Taiwan, the Taipei 101 building (over 449 meters high) includes a central column that acts as a pendulum to balance the sideways movement of seismic waves from earthquakes and typhoons.  Architects got this idea from ancient pagodas (temples) which have stood for centuries in earthquake-prone areas.  The Japanese used the same pagoda idea when they built the Yokohama Landmark Tower (296 meters tall.)

Taipei 101 building in Taiwan

Taipei 101 Skyline

Taipei 101 building in Taiwan

Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia
The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, stand 452 meters high. They were the tallest buildings in the world until 2004 and remain the tallest twin towers in the world. They include the world’s tallest 2-story bridge connecting the 41st and 42nd floors. The bridge is designed to slide in and out of the buildings as the wind causes the buildings to sway–safer than a rigid design would be.

Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia

The Petronas Towers at dusk.

Petronas Towers Skyline

The Petronas Towers and the Kuala Lumpur Tower dominate the skyline of Kuala Lumpur’s Central Business District.

U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles
In the United States, earthquakes are most closely associated with the state of California, although there are fault lines in other areas of the country as well. The U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles is 310 meters high. It is also known as the Library Tower because it includes a restored Los Angeles library.

U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles

U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles Skyline

Downtown Los Angeles Skyline

TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco
Another famous skyscraper in California is the TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco. This elongated pyramid was built to allow sunlight to reach the surrounding areas in spite of the building’s height of 260 meters. That was pretty groovy for them to do for their not so tall neighbors. Because of the shape of the building, the majority of the windows can pivot 360 degrees so they can be washed from the inside. The spire is actually hollow and lined with a 100-foot steel stairway at a 60 degree angle, followed by two steel ladders. There used to be a public observation deck on the 27th floor, but it was closed after 9/11. That means you can only check out the view by looking at the live feeds at the Visitor Center.

TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco

TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco

TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco

Interior TransAmerica Pyramid

There is a commemorative plaque in honor of Bummer and Lazarus, the famous dogs of the 1850s, at the base of the building.

Bummer and Lazarus, the famous dogs of the 1850s

Buildings of the Future

The Wilshire Grand Tower
The Wilshire Grand Tower will be 335 meters tall when completed. It will then be the tallest building in Los Angeles and the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

The Wilshire Grand Tower

Salesforce Tower (once called the Transbay Tower)
Also being built in San Francisco is the Salesforce Tower (once called the Transbay Tower.) This building will be 326 meters tall and second tallest building west of the Mississippi. It was begun in 2013 and is expected to be open in 2018.

Salesforce Tower (once called the Transbay Tower)

Architects and engineers are always looking for new ideas to build groovier buildings, especially in earthquake-prone areas. Old ideas like the pagoda and new ideas like modern alloy steel and harmonic absorbers can combine to make buildings that look groovy and stand tall through the forces of nature.

Learn More about earthquakes and earthquake proof structures with “Shake It Up” Groovy Lab in a Box!

Shake It Up” Engineering Design Challenge: You are a groovy earthquake engineer who has been contracted by the city of Los Angeles. Using only the materials from your Groovy Lab in a Box, can you design and build the tallest skyscraper that can withstand the next BIG quake?

During their engineering design process, STEMists will investigate what causes earthquakes while constructing a groovy seismograph and shake table. Explore S and P waves, fault planes, famous earthquake proof structures around the world and much, much more! From their groovy lab notebook, STEMists do investigation activities which work in tandem with the special “Beyond…in a Box” online learning portal. This is a unique feature of Groovy Lab in a Box because it gives STEMists a deeper understanding of that month’s topic. “Beyond…in a Box” has videos, reading library and more interactive activities to supplement what they are learning from the box projects, which also helps the STEMist even more when completing the design challenge.

Join Now! and challenge your STEMists to a monthly Groovy Lab in a Box, full of everything a child needs to learn about and do hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) investigations and engineering design challenges. Our monthly box activates thinking, questioning, inquiring and original creation as we guide children through scientific inquiry and the engineering design process.

6 Kid-Friendly U.S. Aviation Museums

I was sold on flying as soon as I had a taste for it.” – John Glenn

6 Kid-Friendly U.S. Aviation MuseumsMany young STEMists are curious about flight – whether they are watching how a bird flies or making a paper airplane that floats around the room. As you think about your summer vacation plans, consider visiting one of the many aviation museums around the U.S. Not only will your kids learn more about aviation, you and the entire family will have fun doing it. And, museums are much cheaper than theme park tickets!

Here are six U.S. aviation museums to investigate for your next STEM Family vacation:

#1: Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is the largest of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums. Its collection includes Saturn V rockets, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and the Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia. Be sure to check out the Albert Einstein planetarium, where you will feel like you are zooming across the skis. The Smithsonian offers daily tours and educational activities for every member of the family.

Apollo 11 Command Module

Apollo 11 Command Module

#2: Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport, Chantilly, VA

The Udvar-Hazy Center is a companion center to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Located at Dulles International Airport, the center features two large hangars that contain thousands of aviation and space artifacts. Visitors to the Udvar-Hazy Center can see a Concorde jet, the space shuttle Discovery and panoramic views of Dulles International airport. Like at the Smithsonian, you can enjoy daily tours, lectures, events and educational activities.

Space Shuttle Discovery

Space Shuttle Discovery

#3: Virginia Air and Space Center, Hampton, VA

The Virginia Air and Space Center serves as the visitor center for NASA Langley Research Center and Langley Air Force Base. The center celebrates more than 100 years of flight with fun and interactive exhibits, including launching a rocket, piloting a space shuttle and flying an airplane. The Virginia Air and Space Center also has an Apollo 12 Command Module, Mars meteorite and a moon rock. Also check out a movie in the center’s 3D IMAX theater and take a spin on the Hampton Carousel, a restored carousel that is near the air and space center.

The Virginia Air and Space Center

Aviators look younger and younger these days! Photo Credit: Mate Kitt

#4: San Diego Air and Space Museum, San Diego, CA

Located in Balboa Park in San Diego, the Air and Space Museum is a “must-stop” destination if you are traveling to Southern California. The museum emphasizes San Diego’s contribution to the field of aviation, so many of the exhibits focus on war aircraft, and modern jet and space travel. Some of the galleries include the World War I Gallery, Golden Age of Flight Gallery, World War II Gallery and Modern Jet & Space Age Gallery. Be sure to check out the flight simulators if you have a strong stomach! Lectures, student programs and other events are available.

PSA Flight Attendant Uniforms

PSA Flight Attendant Uniforms – Air and Space Museum, San Diego, CA

#5: The Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA

Biplane Tours - The Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA

Biplane Tours – The Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA

The Museum of Flight has more than 150 air and space craft on display, including the world’s first fighter plane, the first Air Force one and the Blackbird spy plane (the world’s fastest aircraft).
The museum also has several flight simulators, including the Voyager simulator, which is perfect for kids ages 4-11. If you are feeling especially adventurous, you can board a real vintage bi-plane and take an aerial tour of Seattle. Be sure to check out the museum’s special events, including their annual Women Fly! event for young women interested in aviation and aerospace careers.

#6: Southern Museum of Flight, Birmingham, AL

The Southern Museum of Flight is a 75,000-square-foot facility that contains more than 90 types of aircraft, as well as engines, models and other aviation artifacts. Museum visitors can check out the Korean War Jets Exhibit, Tuskegee Airmen Exhibit, Vietnam War Helicopters Exhibit and more. Kids may enjoy the flight simulator and climbing the many displays. Additionally, the museum is adjacent to the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame, whose members include Wilbur & Orville Wright and NASA astronaut Jan Davis.

Southern Museum of Flight, Birmingham, AL

Huff-Daland Duster crop duster of Delta Air Corporation, Monroe, LA

Aviation is one of the many great careers available to STEMists, so be sure to foster their natural curiosity with a trip to an aviation museum. Please check each museum’s event calendar, admission price and hours of operation before your trip to ensure you get the most out of your visit. Most importantly, have fun and make wonderful memories with your groovy STEM Family!

If your child loves aviation, be sure to subscribe to our subscription service. Each month through our Groovy Lab in a Box subscription service, young STEMists (your children!) will receive fun, hands-on projects and an engineering design challenge – all focused on that month’s STEM topic. Order your box today!

Groovy Hydroponic Gardens Around the World

The advantages of hydroponic growing gardens and farms are gaining interest around the world.  Hydroponics uses less water than traditional farming, is environmentally friendly, and produces more plants, fruits and vegetables.  Also, it requires less space and uses less energy.

Groovy Hydroponic Gardens Around the World

The hydroponic method of growing can be accomplished through vertical gardens on urban rooftops, in closed domes and greenhouses, on open land farms or in your own home.

Check out these groovy hydroponic farms and gardens around the world:

Epcot Center Green Houses

The Land Pavilion at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center The Land Pavilion at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida, consists of several connected greenhouses where fruits and vegetables grow in the air, water and sand. The plants grow in vertical towers, conveyor belts, above-ground pipes, cool containers and spiral structures. The Land tour takes visitors on a groovy ride through its Sustainable Agriculture and Research Center, where these methods of growing are used to cultivate a spectacular variety of herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers.

The aeroponic method of growing, where roots are exposed to the air and sprayed with nutrient-based water, is used to grow Brussels sprouts, okra and herbs in the Pavilion.  You can also see edible flowers, such as marigolds, poppies, lavender, viola and snap dragons, growing in an aeroponic vertical tower.

O’Hare Airport

O'Hare Airport aeroponic vertical garden The first aeroponic vertical garden located in an airport opened in 2013 at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois.  A water-nutrient solution cycles through 26 towers that hold over 1,100 plant roots suspended in the air.  The 928-square-foot indoor garden produces a fresh supply of greens that are then used by chefs at Stanley’s Blackhawks Lounge, Wicker Seafood and Sushi Restaurant, Wolfgang Puck and other airport restaurants. STEMists can find the special garden in between O’Hare’s terminals 2 and 3 in the mezzanine level of the Rotunda Building.

Miyagi Prefecture Farm

Miyagi Prefecture FarmPlant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura converted a Sony semiconductor plant in Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture into the world’s largest indoor farm. About the size of a football field, the farms uses 17,500 LED lights spread across 18 cultivation racks, each towering 16 levels high. The LED bulbs provide a most favorable wavelength of light that increases plant growth by 250 percent!  The indoor farm decreases water usage to only 1% of what’s used in conventional farms and a 50% decrease in produce waste.  An astounding 10,000 heads of lettuce are cultivated each day.

Gotham Greens

Gotham Greens

Gotham Greens in New York City operates three rooftop greenhouses that use the hydroponic method of growing.  The first Gotham Green facility, located in Brooklyn, produces over 100 tons of greens each year. A second location in Brooklyn sits atop Whole Foods Market, and produces over 200 tons of greens and tomatoes.  Gotham Greens’ largest rooftop greenhouse is located in Queens and boasts 60,000 square feet of growing space.

Hydro-Taste U-pick Farm

Hydro-Taste U-pick FarmSTEMists can pick their own fruits and vegetables at Hydro-Taste Hydroponic U-pick Farm located in Myakka City, Florida, about 22 miles east of Sarasota. Visitors can pick from 250,000 hydroponic plants, including strawberries, blueberries, kale, corn, peppers and cabbage. The benefits of hydroponic farming are evident at Hydro-Taste. At this farm,  60,000 strawberry plants grow on a half-acre and use only 900 gallons of water a day, whereas the same amount of strawberry plants would take up seven acres on a traditional soil-based ground farm and use over 140,000 gallons of water a day.

Lufa Farms

Lufa FarmsIn 2011, Lufa Farms in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, built the world’s first commercial rooftop greenhouse that spans 30,000 square feet of sustainable hydroponics.  The main goal of Lufa Farms, like many city rooftop gardens, is to grow food for taste and nutrition – close to where the people live. Its first harvest of tomatoes was distributed to 400 local markets and restaurants.

Water Works” Groovy Lab in a Box

Hydroponic farms and gardens can be found in all parts of the world. However, if one is not close enough to visit you and your STEMists can learn more about hydroponic systems with the educational STEM activities found in the “Water Works” groovy box — explore different types of hydroponic systems, seed germination and photosynthesis! Build a water reservoir, test tube bean stalk, hanging raised beds, a groovy space barn and much, much, more! Practice essential 21st century science skills: pipetting, measuring volume and length, making observations and collecting data. Join Now! and challenge your STEMists to a monthly Groovy Lab in a Box, full of everything a child needs to learn about and do hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) investigations. Our monthly box activates thinking, questioning, inquiring and original creation as we guide children through scientific inquiry and engineering design process.

Groovy Ice Sculptures

Elsa, the ice princess of the Disney movie, Frozen, creates a fantastically spectacular ice castle with a grand staircase and chandelier ice sculpture.  There is magic in making ice sculptures, but it’s not as easy as the magic at Elsa’s hands.  In the real world, ice sculptors use their groovy imagination and tools to create a magical experience with ice.

Groovy Ice Sculptures

Ice sculptures come in many shapes, sizes and colors.  Some ice sculptures are as big as a hotel or as small as a butterfly; as tall as 10 meters and as small as 5 centimeters.  They can be used as a focal point at an event, a decoration for your dessert bowl or created for a total ICE winter wonderland. Ice sculptures can range in weight from 1-23,00 kilograms or more, depending on the design.  The average weight of a two-block ice sculpture is nearly 180 kilograms. And, colored lighting can add to the beauty of the sculptured design.

Ice Sculpting Tools

Ice sculptures are made in different ways. Some are carved with machines, some are molded, and others are hand-carved.

Ice sculpturing tools

  • Chisels—a traditional tool used by many professional ice sculptors.  The chisel handle is made of decorative wood and the blade of razor sharp steel. The chisel helps the sculptor with the fine details of the designed shape.
  • Chainsaw—most commonly associated with ice sculpting, the chainsaw allows a sculptor to quickly shape a block of ice.
  • Iron—some sculptors use an iron to warm the ice design to create a smooth sleek look.

Using these tools can be dangerous; however, most dangerous is working for long periods in the cold temperatures required to maintain a temperature ideal for ice carving.  An ideal temperature for ice sculpting is 15-25 degrees Celsius.

Build Your Own Ice Sculpture

Build your own ice sculpture

This easy activity presents less danger than sculpting ice blocks with the tools mentioned above.

Add a dash of sand to an assortment of balloons and then fill them with water.  The sand acts as freezing nuclei for the water in the balloon.  Freeze the water balloons outside.  Once frozen, peel the balloons off the ice.  STEMists will find each balloon has an individual pattern created by trapped air bubbles during the freezing process.  STEMists can add food coloring to the water before freezing to enhance their ice sculptures.

Groovy Ice Sculpture Festivals

Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in China is held each year in honor of the first Ice lanterns that were a winter-time tradition in northeast China. During the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911), the local peasants and fishermen often made and used ice lanterns as jack-lights during the winter months.

Quebec Winter Carnival

Quebec Winter Carnival

Quebec Winter Carnival, held annually since 1955, hosts winter activities for all ages including sleigh rides, skating, snow sculptures and more.  The world’s largest winter carnival is held January 30 to February 15.

World Ice Art Championships

World Ice Art Championships ice block

World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska, is an annual springtime celebration that showcases an ice sculpting competition. The championships take place in a permanent Ice Park where the ice for the competition is harvested from the O’Grady Pond, right in the Ice Park. Competitors of all ages can enter a single-block or multi-block sculpture, and spectators can enjoy ice skating, learning how to sculpt ice, walking through a maze and much more.

Whether your STEMists have seen the fifth-highest grossing film in box office history, Frozen, or not, the beauty of ice is often in the design engineered by the imagination and creative mind.  Check out the latest ice-themed Groovy Lab in a Box “What’s The Matter?” for design challenges that encourage creative and critical thinking in your STEMists.

Groovy Ice Hotels Inspire Backyard Igloos


Groovy Ice HotelsDo your STEMists like to build snow forts and igloos?

The engineering design of a backyard igloo can be challenging, but not as challenging as creating a hotel made completely of ice.  There are many ice hotels throughout the world.

Check out these three groovy ice hotels that will surely have your STEMists planning upgrades for their next backyard igloo.

Hotel de Glace—near Quebec City, Canada

Hotel de Glace

This groovy wonderland is only open during the winter season, and the Hotel de Glace is rebuilt with ice and snow every winter season.  Artistically designed snow suites are decorated with evergreen ice sculptures, and ready to accommodate both couples and families for a cool unique evening.  Have you ever considered sleeping on a bed of ice?  Don’t worry – warm blankets of fur and arctic sleeping bags provide warmth for a restful sleep!

Adults will enjoy the ice bar where they can make their own ice glass to hold a warming cocktail and dance beneath spectacular ice chandeliers.  And, young STEMists will make memories that last a lifetime at the Old-Time Sugar Shack where they make their own maple syrup and snow popsicles.

The Hotel de Glace is open for day visitors or overnight guests through March 28.

Snowhotel— Kirkenes, Norway

Snowhotel Kirkenes Norway

This snow hotel works on the basis that snow makes for good insulation.  The Norwegian hotel beauty will amaze everyone in the family.  Kirkenes Snowhotel describes every room as a small treasure.  Each room follows a different Arctic cultural theme.  Five meters in diameter, the rooms offer comfortable accommodation with beds that appear to be made of ice, but are actually ice block frames that hold a thermal insulated mattress.  Guest bedding is a sleeping bag graded for -35 degrees Celsius.

Snowhotel relies on snow as an insulator, ensuring that even when it’s minus 30 degrees Celsius outside, inside the hotel will remain at minus 4 degrees Celsius.   Snow and ice sculptures, created by artists from the specialist ice-sculpting Chinese city of Harbin, are lighted for artistic effect to decorate the magnificent hotel.  Ice sculpture designs are different each year.

Activities are plenty at Snowhotel.  From a Red King Crab Fishing excursion, a Husky Dog sledding trip to a hunt to see the natural magical phenomenon of the Northern Lights, Snowhotel will have plenty to keep everyone in your groovy group entertained. Don’t forget to pet the resident reindeer!

Hotel of Ice—Balea Lac, Romania

Hotel of Ice—Balea Lac, Romania

The ultimate in winter escapes, the Hotel of Ice in Romania is built on top of a frozen glacial lake.  Guests can choose from a sub-zero hotel room or a private igloo nearby.

Activities are abundant at the Hotel’s Winter Park.  Skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, ice bowling and good old-fashioned snowball fights are among the festivities available at the Hotel park.

An alternative to ice hotels

Gaylord Hotels Ice Slide

If staying at an ice hotel doesn’t sound appealing, perhaps a visit to the ICE exhibit at  one of the four Gaylord Hotels may be more to your liking:

Each of the Gaylord Hotels celebrates with a new Christmas theme each year.  The ICE exhibit is a display of colorful ice sculptures with ice slides, snow tubing and ice skating to help STEMists get in the spirit of grooviness.

Check out the “What’s the Matter?” single box which is all about states of matter and ice!  Or start your Groovy Lab in a Box subscription today!

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