The Trip to Totality – Citizen Science

When Maddie asked if she could use my centrifuge for her sixth grade science project I immediately said yes. We’d been brainstorming ideas as I was mixing chocolate powder into milk. She was curious as to how much of the powder dissolved into the milk and what amount of the powder stayed grains in the milk. You know, the stuff in the bottom of the glass. A good question. I said, in the centrifuge you can take a sample, spin it and measure the amount of solids that come out. You could also use different fluids like water or orange juice, and also compare different powders like Kool-Aid. She could formulate a hypothesis about which fluid would hold onto the most solids and why, then give the samples a spin.
With her chocolate milk moustache catching light she asked if I’d help her set it up.
She prepares the samples after she’d organized her space.
Now she’s a freshman in high school and as we prepare to see the Great American Eclipse we have talked about the science and what projects we could do. For starters we registered to take part in the Eclipse Megamovie with the University of California, Berkeley. We gave them our latitude and longitude, and we will send them eclipse photos with time stamps. Their goal, from the website:
“The primary goal of the Eclipse Megamovie Project is to produce a high definition, time-expanded video of the total solar eclipse that will cross North America from the northwest to the southeast on August 21, 2017. The Megamovie video will be pieced together from images collected by citizen scientists at various points along the eclipse path. This will provide continuous datasets that far exceed what any one person could capture from a single location.”
Pretty freaking cool. There are a bunch of citizen science projects to be done. If you are inclined you can join in ham radio experiments, measuring temperature changes, observing animal behaviors, human behavior at totality, atmospheric conditions, and other things. Check out this link from NASA.
Her notes were comprehensive.
Prior to the eclipse we’re going to build a solar oven and we’re in the midst of creating a Stump the Chump game for our long drive and days camping. We’ve also been talking about what to observe. How to be in the experience. Shocking that my artist/science minded kids are already inclined to making observations, but now they are learning what to look for as an eclipse happens – safely of course. The phenomena of the diamond ring effect, Bailey’s beads, the shadow bands, the corona and chromosphere, the prominences they might see, the change in the atmosphere, the light, the landscape, and what the day sky turned dark will show us. We will go over the why/how these things happen as we go and afterward for sure, but during the eclipse, I only want them engaged in the wonder of being alive in this one celestial moment. That’s science enough right there.
Sometimes you get a result you never anticipated.
Maddie didn’t place first for her centrifuge experiment. It went to a kid who fabricated an off-road robot. That kid’s got a future as a designer and welder. Maddie did have a good time preparing and spinning samples and drinking chocolate milk from test tubes was kind of fun too.

A fun cartoon about science and the eclipse.

An activity guide from NASA.

Ready to present her findings.