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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.

Nikola Tesla: Imagining the Future

“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success… such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.” – Nikola Tesla

Quoted by Cleveland , ‘A Talk With Tesla’, Atlanta Constitution (7 Jun 1896)

 Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla is being rediscovered in pop culture and celebrated as a man before his time and for distinctly imagining the future: devices and technologies we use today such as mobile phones, wireless internet and renewable energy.

“It will soon be possible to transmit wireless messages around the world so simply that any individual can carry and operate his own apparatus.” – Nikola Tesla 

From “WIRELESS OF THE FUTURE” Popular Mechanics October 1909 (Nikola Tesla in The New York Times.)

Tesla’s father Milutin Tesla

Tesla’s father Milutin Tesla

Tesla’s mother Georgina Djuka

Tesla’s mother Georgina Djuka

STEMist, Nikola Tesla, was born in Smiljan Croatia, which was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time. Ironically, the time of his birth was at the stroke of midnight between July 9th and 10th while a fierce electrical storm raged that very night in 1856. The fourth of five children, Nikola’s family lived on a farm and his father, Milutin Tesla, was a priest in the Serbian Orthodox Church. Sadly, his older brother, Danilo, was killed in a riding accident when Nikola was only 7 years old.

Place of Birth of Nikola Tesla Smiljan, Croatia

Place of Birth of Nikola Tesla Smiljan, Croatia, which was then part of Austria-Hungary.

Tesla's house where he was born in 1856

Nikola Tesla’s house where he was born in 1856.

Serbian Orthodox Church where Tesla was baptized

The Serbian Orthodox Church where Tesla was baptized and his father served as a Serbian Orthodox Priest.

After this tragedy, Tesla began to see visions and developed other quirks. For example, he was obsessed with the number 3, doing odd things such as circling a building 3 times before going in and insisting on 3 napkins next to his plate at every meal.

Graz University of Technolog

Graz University of Technolog

In 1877 Tesla studied mathematics and physics at the Graz University of Technology in Austria. He also studied natural philosophy at the Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic.

Charles University in Prague

Charles University in Prague

Today people might find it odd for one person to study both science and philosophy, but in the past university students often learned many different things rather than just one specialty. Philosophy is the study of knowledge and thinking – skills we certainly use when we solve problems in math and science! The Greek Aristotle was a philosopher who also made many scientific observations. Tesla’s education probably made him better at thinking up groovy new ideas.

In 1882 Tesla was walking and admiring a sunset.  Suddenly, he saw a vision of a motor that used a rotating magnetic field to produce what we now know as alternating current

Alternating System (AC). Alternating electrical current changes directions 50 to 60 times per second.  Tesla drew this motor in the ground while a friend watched and wondered at the strange diagram.  According to the experts of the time, the motor Tesla had seen in his vision was impossible and would not work.  Fortunately, Tesla did not forget his motor.

Dynamo Electric Machine - US Patent 406,968

Dynamo Electric Machine Nikola Tesla – July 16, 1889.

US Patent 406,968

A model of Tesla's first induction motor

A model of Tesla’s first induction motor, in Tesla Museum, Belgrade

On June 6th, 1884, at the age of 28, Nikola arrived in New York City (later becoming a naturalized American citizen) in search of people who would believe in his unusual ideas about electricity. He became an engineer working on improving dynamos for Thomas Edison.  Edison and Tesla did not get along well, though.  One thing they disagreed about was the use of DC or AC power.  Edison wanted the nation powered by DC, while Tesla recognized that AC could provide more power, better power, and cheaper power.  AC eventually won, but Edison put up a fight.

Nikola Tesla & Thomas Edison

Nikola Tesla & Thomas Edison

Later Tesla worked for Westinghouse.  His greatest accomplishment at Westinghouse was the invention of the high-voltage transformer we now call the Tesla coil.

Tesla Coil

This Tesla coil shut down the power in Colorado Springs when this photo was taken. Photo by Dickenson V. Alley, photographer at the Century Magazines via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1891 Tesla worked with General Electric to install AC generators at Niagara Falls in New York – creating the first modern electrical power generating plant. The Niagara Falls Hydroelectric Power and Manufacturing Company (NFHP) was located on the lower river north of Niagara Falls.

Niagra Falls - first modern electrical power generating plant.

Niagra Falls – first modern electrical power generating plant.

Unfortunately, Nikola Tesla had some hard times in his life.  In 1895 his New York laboratory burned along with most of his lab notes and equipment.  The famous banker, J.P. Morgan, helped him rebuild.  After a time, however, Morgan grew tired of Tesla’s grand and imaginative ideas and stopped providing his support.  Thomas Edison and other rivals sometimes used Tesla’s work without giving him credit.

“I don’t care that they stole my idea . . I care that they don’t have any of their own” – Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla

Tesla died alone in his apartment with no riches or fame.  He did befriend the pigeons in a nearby park, even bringing injured birds home so he could care for them.  He was not recognized enough in his lifetime for his amazing ideas and inventions.  The world we live in today, however, would be very different if Nikola Tesla had not lived.

“Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine” ― Nikola Tesla

You can honor Nikola Tesla and other STEMists who have given you the modern world by creating your own electrical projects.  Check out the “It’s Electric!” groovy box – building a paper circuit with LED lights, resistors, and a battery will be one way to practice the science you are learning.  You can go on to build a buzzing door alarm and design a new kind of groovy dance pad.  Tesla was often called a man ahead of his time because he saw how useful electricity could be.  You are living in the world he imagined!

“The world, I think, will wait a long time for Nikola Tesla’s equal in achievement and imagination.” Edwin Armstrong

Female Aerospace Pioneers

 “Flying is the best possible thing for women.” — Baroness Raymonde de la Roche

Female Aerospace Pioneers

Although men were the first aviators, women quickly took to the air as well.  Most early flight schools did not accept female students, but determined women learned from friends or paid for private lessons. Since the early 19th century, women have been making strides in the field of aviation. From flying the first airplanes to walking in space, women have been accomplishing aviation and aerospace milestones for more than 100 years. Let’s take a look at the lives of seven female aersopace pioneers:

Baroness Raymonde de la Roche

The first woman pilot, Baroness Raymonde de la Roche, was licensed in 1910 in France.  She was taught by her friend, Charles Voisin.  In 1919 this talented engineer and pilot set a women’s altitude record by flying at a height of 4,785 meters.  In the summer of that year she decided to become the first female test pilot.  The new aircraft went into a dive and crashed, killing her and the pilot.

Baroness Raymonde de la Roche

The Baroness, always comfortable behind the wheel of her Voisin, c1909

Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman

In 1921 Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman, a Texan, became the first civilian (non-military) licensed African-American pilot in the world.  Elizabeth “Bessie” ColemanShe went to France to learn to fly after her brothers, who served in World War II, told her French women were allowed to fly. When she returned to the United States she did air shows: barnstorming, parachute jumping, and giving demonstrations. Coleman would only perform if the audience was not segregated and all people got to enter the show through the same gate.  This courageous and adventurous woman fell from the open cockpit of a plane during a test flight which ended her life on April 30, 1926.  She was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2006.

Madame Therese Peltier

Born in France in 1873, Madame Peltier was a well-known sculptor in Paris. She became interested in aviation when her friend and fellow sculptor, Leon Delagrange, took an interest in flying. Madame Therese PeltierShe was Delagrange’s constant passenger, observing how his airplane works and studying the mechanics of aviation. She began to take lessons from Delagrange, and in 1908, she completed her first solo flight. With this flight, Peltier became the first woman to pilot a heavier-than-air craft. Despite her successful flight, Peltier never applied for her pilot’s license. In 1910, Delagrange died in an airplane crash in Bordeaux, and Peltier lost interest in aviation. In a time when most women were thought unable to drive a car – much less pilot an airplane – Peltier’s accomplishments as an aviator are truly remarkable.

Amelia Earhart

Amelia EarhartAmelia Earhart was born in 1897 in Kansas and fell in love with airplanes while attending an air show in Toronto as a teenager. As a college student, Earhart convinced her father to pay for flying lessons. After just one ten-minute lesson, Earhart was hooked and worked a variety of jobs, including photographer, truck driver and stenographer, to raise the money needed for her remaining lessons. In 1923, Earhart became the 16th woman to earn a pilot’s license. In 1932, after years of flying with male pilots, Earhart wanted to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in a solo flight. She set off from Newfoundland and landed in a pasture at Culmore in Northern Ireland. She had hoped to make it to Paris, but strong winds shortened her journey. Nevertheless, with this flight, Earhart became the first female pilot to complete a solo transatlantic flight.

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova is a former Soviet cosmonaut who became the first woman in space. Her career, though, started out on a different path. As a young girl, Tereshkova was interested in parachuting and later took skydiving lessons. She completed her first jump at the age of 22. At the time, she was an assembly line worker with barely a high school education.

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova

In 1961, the Soviet Union wanted to put a woman in space and began a search for the country’s first female cosmonaut. Tereshkova applied and was selected out of more than 400 candidates, based largely on her expertise as a parachutist and skydiver.

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova

In 1963, at the age of 26, Tereshkova boarded the Vostok 6 and began her three-day space journey, orbiting the earth 48 times. After her flight, Tereshkova studied at the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy and earned a doctorate in engineering.

Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock

In 1964 Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock became the first woman to fly solo around the world.  Her flight took 29 days and was completed April 17, 1964.  According to her obituary, Mock thought her flight was no big deal.  She said she did it mostly “to have fun.”  Although she enjoyed flying, she obviously took it seriously, too–she did, after all, live to the age of 88.  When she did her around-the-world flight, she was a full-time mother of three children and had been a licensed pilot for only seven years.  During her famous flight she once had to land in Saudi Arabia.  After she exited the plane, the crowd waited for a man (the pilot) to come out, too.  When no man emerged, they realized she was the pilot and many cheered.  Her plane, the Spirit of Columbus, is in a museum in Chantilly, Virginia.

Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock

Moments before she took off from the Port of Columbus Airport on her 1964 flight, Mock posed in front of Three-Eight Charlie, also known as the Spirit of Columbus. According to her memoir, Mock wore her “blue, drip-dry outfit” throughout the flight.

Dr. Sally Ride

Dr. Sally Ride, a physicist, became the first American Woman to fly in space.  Her first space shuttle mission took off on June 18, 1983.  She flew a second mission in 1984.  One of her specialties on the mission was to operate the robotic arm used to place satellites in orbit.  She became part of the astronaut Hall of Fame in 2003.  Until she died in 2012, Sally Ride worked hard to encourage young people to study science and math.  She had college degrees in both English and physics, and went on to earn a Ph.D. (the highest degree one can earn in a field) in physics.  Dr. Ride knew how important education is and wanted to help students in any way she could. She often shared her space experiences in schools and in interviews.  Her company, Sally Ride Science, especially encouraged girls to develop their interests in science and technology.

Dr. Sally Ride

Female Aviation Timeline

How much do you know about female aviation pioneers? Here’s a timeline of female aviation and aerospace accomplishments to inspire your future aviator:
1906 – E. Lillian Todd became the first woman to help design and build an aircraft
1908 – Madame Therese Peltier became the first woman to fly an airplane by herself
1910 – Baroness Raymonde de Laroche got the first women’s pilot license
1910 – Bessica Raiche became the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license
1911 – Harriet Quimby was the first American woman fly across the English Channel
1913 – Katherine Stinson was the first American woman to operate a flight school
1921 – Bessie Coleman was the first African American to earn an International Pilot’s License
1928 – Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean
1930 – Amy Johnson was the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia
1934 – Jeanette Picard was America’s first female licensed balloon pilot and America’s first woman to enter the stratosphere
1934 – Helen Richey was the first woman to be hired to pilot a U.S. commercial airline
1936 – Jean Batten was the first pilot to fly solo from England to New Zealand
1937 – Sabiha Gokcen of Turkey was the first female pilot to fly combat missions
1938 – Hanna Reitsch was the first woman to fly a helicopter
1938 – Willa Brown was the first African-American woman to earn her pilot’s license and commercial license
1953 – Jacqueline Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier
1963 – Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to fly in space
1964 – Geraldine Mock was the first woman to fly solo around the world
1974 – Barbara Allen Rainey was the first female pilot in the U.S. military
1976 – Emily Howell Warner was the first female to command a major American passenger flight
1980 – Lynn Rippelmeyer was the first woman pilot to fly a Boeing 747
1983 – Sally Ride became the first American woman to go to space
1984 – Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman to ever perform a space walk
1992 – Dr. Mae Jemison was the first African American woman to go to space
1995 – Martha McSally was the first woman to fly combat missions for the United States
1996 – Shannon Lucid is the American astronaut who has been in space for the longest period of time and the American woman with the most missions to space
1997 – Eileen Collins was the first woman to command a U.S. space shuttle mission
2001 – Polly Vacher became the first woman to fly around the world in a small plane
2001 – Vernice Armour became the first African-American combat pilot
2012 – Liu Yang was the first Chinese woman to launch into space
2012 – Col. Jeannie Flynn Leavitt became the U.S. Air Force’s first female wing commander
If your STEMist (your child!) loves aviation and space, be sure to check out the “Fly With Me” groovy box! Engineering Design Challenge: You are a starry-eyed aerospace engineer and a groovy world traveler. You dream of taking off in the blue, gliding where the air is stratified and floating down to Peru. Using only the materials from your Groovy Lab in a Box, can you design, build, and launch an airplane generating thrust with a propeller which travels fifteen feet? STEMists, get ready to pack up and fly away!

A groovy approach to hands-on Next Generation Science Standards,  project-based learning…Groovy Lab in a Box!

The Evolution of the Telescope

The Evolution of the Telescope

“My parents gave me a small telescope, then I built my own, and one thing led to another. So that’s how I ended up going from being a hobby astronomer to a professional astronomer.” – Dimitar Sasselov, Bulgarian astronomer based in the United States. He is a Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University and director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative.

In the beginning, people’s knowledge about the stars was limited by the power of their own eyes. The inventions of lenses, mirrors, and eventually the telescope made it possible to see more things clearly. The history of astronomy is tied to the development of the telescope, since we need to observe things in order to understand them.

Refracting Telescope

In 1608 Hans Lippershey (or Lipperhey), a Dutch eyeglass maker, was the first man to apply for a patent for the telescope. Others also claimed to be the inventor, but the Dutch government accepted his patent as the first.

Hans Lippershey (or Lipperhey)

Hans Lippershey

While the earliest telescopes only magnified things a few times, Galileo Galilei worked hard and was able to eventually make his telescope magnify things till they were 10 times larger. By 1610, Galileo had a telescope that magnified 30 times. He was able to see craters on the moon and even the moons orbiting the planet Jupiter.

Galileo's ink drawings of the moon. Credit: NASA

Galileo’s ink drawings of the moon. Credit: NASA

A 1754 painting by H.J. Detouche shows Galileo Galilei displaying his telescope to Leonardo Donato and the Venetian Senate.

A 1754 painting by H.J. Detouche shows Galileo Galilei displaying his telescope to Leonardo Donato and the Venetian Senate.

Johannes Kepler also improved upon the early refracting telescopes.  Instead of a concave and a convex lens, he tried two convex lenses.  (Concave lenses curve inward, like a bowl, while convex lenses curve out.) The largest refracting telescope ever built had a lens 40 inches wide.  It opened in 1897 at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.

A 1610 portrait of Johannes Kepler by an unknown artist

A 1610 portrait of Johannes Kepler by an unknown artist

Yerkes Refractor Telescope, 1897

Yerkes Refractor Telescope, 1897

Yerkes Refractor Telescope, 2006

Yerkes Refractor Telescope, 2006

Reflecting Telescope

Sir Isaac Newton studied Kepler’s work and decided it might be a better idea to build a telescope using mirrors instead of lenses. Mirrors reflect light, while lenses allow light to pass through them and bend (refract) the light.  In 1668 he built the first practical reflecting telescope. For many years scientists used both refracting and reflecting telescopes, but the reflector became the favorite of astronomers.

Diagram of Isaac Newton's reflecting telescope, from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1672.

Diagram of Isaac Newton’s reflecting telescope, 1672. Image courtesy of the Royal Society of London.

Edwin Hubble

Edwin Hubble at the eyepiece of the 100″ Hooker Reflecting Telescope [Photograph by Margaret Bourke-White/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images]

In the 1920’s most STEMists believed the universe was static (unchanging) in size.  But then came along astronomer Edwin Hubble in 1929 who published his findings that the universe is expanding! He did not directly see the universe expand like a balloon but calculated the velocity of light spectra from far away galaxies.  (Light from a galaxy has specific characteristics, spectrum, based on the make-up or composition of the galaxy.) From these calculations, Edwin Hubble determined that nearly all galaxies are moving away from us, and the farther the galaxies are from us, the faster they are moving … the universe is expanding!

Modern Telescopes

Karl Guthe Jansky detected radio waves in outer space in 1931. This discovery inspired engineers to develop radio telescopes and other types of telescopes for measuring and mapping microwaves, gamma rays, and other electromagnetic radiation. These telescopes helped scientists “see” invisible radiation and use it to detect objects such as pulsars.

Hubble Space Telescope Is The GROOVIEST!

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990 with the Space Shuttle Discovery. Since then, it has been in a low orbit around the earth. The Hubble Space Telescope is a reflecting telescope that also has digital cameras and satellite communications so it can send us groovy images. These images are clearer than earthbound astronomers can see because the Hubble is outside earth’s atmosphere and gets a clearer view of distant objects. The Hubble is the only telescope designed to be adjusted and repaired in space by astronauts.

Hubble Telescope

Hubble Space Telescope in a low orbit around the earth.

Groovy Images From The Hubble Space Telescope!

“We are like mayflies, fleeting ephemeral creatures who live out their lives in the course of a single day.” – Carl Sagan

A replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, is planned for launch in 2018. There are always ways to improve the telescope, so we never stop adding to our knowledge of the stars.

Moon Dance” Groovy Lab in a Box

If your STEMist loves telescopes and star stuff, be sure to check out our “Moon Dance” groovy box – explore Earth’s moon, gravity, mass vs. weight, moon phases, tides, light, telescopes and much, much, more.  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.

A groovy thank you to Oh, Star Stuff for providing some of the groovy Hubble Space Telescope images above.

On The Shoulders Of Galileo Galilei

“If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton

Galileo Galilei
Young STEMists can learn much from the life of Galileo. Like all good STEMists, he studied the work of those who had gone before him. As he studied, he asked questions to test those ideas. Sometimes he found new, better explanations for the way things work. Every good STEMist learns from the past and tries to go further and do better.

Galileo: Groovy Ideas to Explain the Universe

Galileo Galilei was born in 1564 in Pisa, Italy. His father was a musician. Though the family was noble, they were not wealthy. In 1581, Galileo was sent to the University of Pisa to study medicine. While there, he was especially fascinated by the fields of mathematics and physics.

University of Pisa, Italy

University of Pisa, Italy

Galileo became a professor at the University of Pisa, where he taught from 1589 through 1592. He did research on the motion of falling objects. At that time, STEMists still believed the world operated the way Aristotle, a famous Greek philosopher, had described. They believed, for example, that the earth was the center of the universe and that heavier objects fell faster than lightweight objects. Galileo’s research, which he published in a book, On Motion, showed that all objects fall at the same rate in a vacuum. This was not what Aristotle had predicted.


Aristotle – Greek philosopher and STEMist

After his time at the University of Pisa, Galileo taught geometry, mechanics, and astronomy at the University of Padua for eighteen years. During this time he began to support the theory of Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish astronomer who said the planets revolved around the sun.

Nicolaus Copernicus - Polish astronomer who said the planets revolved around the sun.

Nicolaus Copernicus

We call this the heliocentric (sun-centered) view as opposed to Aristotle’s geocentric (earth-centered) view.  Galileo made improvements to a Dutch telescope and was the first to use the telescope to make observations in astronomy. He saw that the moon, which people had thought was smooth, was actually covered in craters. He also observed that Jupiter had moons of its own–and those moons did not revolve around the earth.

Galileo Galilei at the University of Padua

Galileo Demonstrating the New Astronomical Theories at the University of Padua

He studied the motion of pendulums and came up with the idea of a pendulum clock. He also invented a water pump and made improvements to the refracting telescope, though he did not invent the telescope itself. Like many learned men of his day, Galileo was interested in many things and let his curiosity spur him to study problems until he came up with solutions.

Galileo's pendulum clock

Galileo’s pendulum clock

Unfortunately, Galileo’s solutions were not popular with some powerful people in Italy. Pope Urban VIII did not approve of his Copernican ideas. The Catholic Church at that time had decided Aristotle’s ideas were correct. The Pope had Galileo found guilty of heresy (going against church teachings) and the STEMist spent the rest of his life under house arrest. In 1758 the Catholic Church at last lifted the ban on Copernicus’ heliocentric theory. The evidence by that time was clear–Galileo had been right all along to reject Aristotle’s view. In 1992 Pope John Paul II expressed regret at the way Galileo had been treated by the church.

Heliocentric (sun-centered) view as opposed to geocentric (earth-centered) view

Galileo’s life shows how ideas in STEM can change.  Long ago, people came up with ideas (theories) that seemed to explain the motion of objects.  Later, when people had equipment to take better measurements or to see more clearly, they found problems with the old theories and devised new ones that better explained what they observed.  Remember we have never reached a point where we have learned everything for sure!

Maybe you will take the next big STEM leap!

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