Conservation Creation: April Showers

In some way or another, we are all connected by water. Water is not only necessary for our survival, it makes our lives better in countless ways! To name just a few examples, water is used for our plumbing systems, growing the plants that become our food, and keeping our boats afloat so that they can transport goods all over the world. We even use water for recreation: when we kayak, swim or visit water parks! It’s safe to say that water is one of our most important resources.

So, how does water connect all of us? Through the water cycle! When the Earth heats up, water evaporates and begins to collect in the clouds. Once the evaporated water begins to cool, droplets form and return to Earth in the form of precipitation (think rain or snow). You can learn more about precipitation and weather in the GSC’s Weather Gallery on your next visit!

To see what the water cycle looks like in action, follow the steps below for this month’s Conservation Creation activity, Storm in a Cup.

What you’ll need: A glass, a small container, blue food coloring, an eyedropper, shaving cream, and water

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Step 1: Fill the glass with water, leaving about 1-2 inches at the top for the “cloud”. In the small container, mix water and blue food coloring. The resulting blue water will be your “rain”.

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Step 2: Add shaving cream to the glass of water, filling to the rim. This will form the “cloud”.

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Step 3: Use the eyedropper to drop blue water into the center of your cloud. It may take a while for the rain to break through the shaving cream, but once it does, your cup will resemble a storm.

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For an additional lesson, see how long it takes for all of the water in the cup to turn blue. This can serve as a model for pollution!

Since all water is connected through the water cycle, it’s important for us to do all that we can to keep our water clean. You can learn more about how to get involved in keeping our water clean through the City of Greensboro Water Resources website!

Conservation Creation: March of the Dinosaurs

How do scientists learn about plants and animals that are no longer here on Earth? Through studying fossils, of course! Fossils are created through a process called fossilization, in which materials like bone are slowly replaced by minerals. Another way fossils are formed involves the decay of an organism, which leaves behind a mold that gets cemented into a cast. Fossils can show bone, teeth, plant and skin textures, eggs, footprints, and imprints left behind. The scientists (called paleontologists) who study fossils have even found fossilized dinosaur poop with animal remains inside of it!

Paleontologists have been able to learn a lot about dinosaurs from studying their fossils. Based on evidence from bone and footprint fossils, we can learn the sizes of different species of dinosaurs, where they lived, how far they traveled, and whether they preferred to live in groups or on their own. Fossils have also given us information about how dinosaurs looked, moved, and even how they may have sounded!

While we’ve uncovered many of the mysteries of animals from the past, paleontologists are constantly finding new fossils and learning new things! For example, in 2016, a cache of hundreds of pterosaur eggs were discovered in China. Before this discovery, only six well-preserved eggs had ever been found! (You can read more about that discovery here.)

Now it’s time to make some discoveries of your own – with some DIY fossils!

What you’ll need: Flour, salt, water, craft sand, measuring cups, a large bowl, and dinosaur toys to make some fossil imprints.

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Step 1: Mix together 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of salt and 1 cup of craft sand.

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Step 2: Add ½ cup of warm water to the bowl containing the sand, flour, and salt.

Note: For more vibrant fossils, add food coloring that matches the sand to the water before mixing.

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Step 3: Use your hands or a wooden spoon to knead all of the ingredients together until they feel like a grainy bread dough. You may need to add small amounts of water or flour to get the consistency where you want it.

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Step 4: Using a small amount of dough, gently press your fossil object into it to leave an imprint.

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Step 5: Allow this to harden overnight. For a faster dry, you can also bake the dough at 250 degrees for 1-2 hours.

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Once your fossils are dry, examine them and discuss what you may be able to learn from them!

To make this project more challenging, use a variety of animal toys or plant textures to study a larger variety of fossils!

Conservation Creation: Animal Valentines

At the Greensboro Science Center, one of the most important things keepers do for our animals is provide them with enrichment. Enrichment is defined as “improving the quality of”, and we apply that principle to the lives of our animals. Two of the primary things to keep in mind with providing enrichment are: provide the animals with choices; and stimulate natural behaviors, both physically and mentally.

Enrichment can be created in a variety of ways, depending upon the type of animal it’s intended for. For example, penguins have excellent eyesight, so providing them with brightly colored decorations in their exhibit can spark their curiosity and encourage them to investigate their habitat. As another example, it’s enriching for our fishing cats when keepers scatter their diets throughout their habitat so that they have to forage like they would do in the wild.

For pet owners, there are many ways to provide enrichment for the animals (dogs, cats, birds, etc.) in our homes without breaking the bank. Check out some of our DIY enrichment ideas below, or get creative and see how many different ideas you can come up with!

What you’ll need: Cardboard or paper materials from your recycling bin + your pet’s favorite treats (we’re using Cheerios)!

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Enrichment Item 1: Forage Box

Step 1: Place your treats in the middle of a piece of paper, then crumple the paper into a ball. Make as many of these as you would like.

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Step 2:  Place your treat-filled paper balls in a small box (like a shoe box), then give the box to your pet and watch them forage through to find their treats. For an added challenge, only put treats in a few of the paper balls so that your pet has to investigate more thoroughly.

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Enrichment Item 2: Treat Tubes

Step 1: Make a small paper ball and stuff it into one end of a toilet paper or paper towel tube.

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Step 2: Place some of your pet’s treats into the tube, on top of the paper ball you just made. Next, place another paper ball on top of the treats. You can give your pets the tube at this point, or continue on to step 3 for an added challenge!

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Step 3: Fold the outsides of the tube inward so that your pet has to manipulate the tube more thoroughly to reach the food. This will be especially useful for birds or high-energy dogs. Give the enrichment item to your pet, or hide a few of them around the house for your pet to find!

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Please remember: Every animal may interact with enrichment items differently.  For safety, items should be monitored to ensure your pet’s safety.

Conservation Creation: Crafting Corals

Coral reefs are some of our planet’s most beautiful and vital ecosystems. Created by corals, reef systems provide both food and shelter to a large variety of animals. These amazing animals sustain around 25% of ocean life, even though they only make up about 1% of the ocean. Not only are animals able to live in the reefs, but the algae that grows on the corals is an important food source for several different organisms. Corals and algae are in what we call a symbiotic relationship – meaning they both benefit from each other. Corals provide algae with a place to grow; at the same time, corals gain energy through the algae’s photosynthesis.

So what are corals? Corals are tiny animals, called polyps, that group together to form a larger structure. Once an initial skeletal structure is formed, tissue can begin to grow. Once tissue has formed, some corals maintain a rigid appearance (like staghorn coral), while other corals are soft (like waving hand coral). As you could imagine, the appearance and traits of corals are incredibly diverse. As unique as corals are, they all face similar issues in the ocean. Corals have very specific environments that they inhabit. These environments are negatively affected by climate change, but we can help corals by reducing our carbon footprint and fighting ocean pollution.

 

Now, for our DIY activity: here’s how you can craft a coral reef of your own!

What you’ll need: Coffee filters, pipe cleaners, bowls, water, food coloring

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Step 1: Fill your bowls with about an inch of water and food coloring. You can have as many bowls and colors as you would like! Just remember that more food coloring = brighter colors.

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Step 2: Place your coffee filters upside down in the water. Be sure to allow the color to travel throughout the whole filter. (For younger kids, this can be a great opportunity to teach them about color mixing!) Once the color has made its way through the whole filter, set filters aside to dry overnight. Low on time? This process can be sped up with the help of a blow dryer.

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Step 3: Stack 2-4 coffee filters together, then push a pipe cleaner through the center. You will want to twist the end of the pipe cleaner into a small ball to keep the filters from sliding off. This will serve as the center of your coral.

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Step 4: Pinch the bottom of the filters around the pipe cleaner, then wrap the pipe cleaner around the pinched section; this keeps the coral together.

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Step 5: Repeat the process to create as many corals as you would like! In this way, you can create your own reef! Feel free to get even more creative by adding toy animals or whatever else you’d like to see in your reef. For an added challenge, research different types of corals and animals living together in the ocean and try to build your reef based off of that environment!

Conservation Creation: Jelly Jamboree

Without a doubt, jellies are one of Earth’s strangest animals. They have neither hearts nor brains but have managed to survive on our planet for over 500 million years! Often called jellyfish, they’re not actually fish – instead, they make up their own group of incredibly diverse animals. For example, the smallest jelly, the Irukanji, only grows to about the size of a thumbtack, while the Lion’s Mane Jelly can reach lengths of over 100 feet! Some jellies use stinging for defense and hunting, others can clone themselves, and others still can glow in the dark.

So, what do these diverse animals actually have in common? A jelly’s body consists of a bell (the round top of the jelly), a nerve net (instead of a brain), and a mouth organ.

At the Greensboro Science Center, we house three distinct species of jellies:

moon jelly 01Moon Jellies – typically found in Japan, they’re an aquarium favorite, primarily due to their hardiness and robust lifespan of approximately 12 months. Moon Jellies sting using the small, tentacle-like structures surrounding their bell. However, the Moon Jelly’s sting is so mild that most humans wouldn’t even realize it if they’d been stung. The long, thin structures that extend from the bell of the jelly, called oral arms, move foods such as brine shrimp and small planktons to the Moon Jelly’s central mouth.

blubber-jelly_3770.jpgBlubber Jellies – native to the Indo-Pacific regions and coastal Australia, these jellies have a unique way of acquiring their food. They ram their bodies into the sand to stir up tiny crustaceans and plankton to catch in their oral arms, which contain stinging cells and also act as a mouth. Tiny spaces along the arms process the food (rather than moving it to a central mouth, like the oral arms of Moon Jellies do). Blubbers come in three different color varieties – white, blue and maroon – and have a lifespan of around 10 months.

cassiopea-or-upside-down-jellyfish-shutterstock_173059469.jpgUpside Down Jellies – found in the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean Sea, these jellies are one of the world’s most unique jellies. They lay on their bells with oral arms pointing upwards towards the sunlight. Bacteria on the oral arms allow these animals to gain energy through photosynthesis… just like plants do! Upsides Down Jellies also eat plankton and small fish, which is warm, sunny waters make for a perfect environment for them to thrive.

At first glance, jellies may not seem to be up to much, but they’re actually doing a lot of good for our oceans! Not only do they provide a food source for many of our favorite animals, but they also help to stir the ocean, keeping it healthy. Unfortunately, climate change and plastic pollution are working against these amazing animals. If you’d like to help jellies and the animals that rely upon them, reduce your plastic usage and your carbon footprint. A couple of easy ways to do this? Switch from single-use plastic straws and bags to reusable options, and buy more local produce and products when available.

And now, it’s DIY time! Here’s how to make your own jelly slime:

DSC_5090For this activity, you’ll need:

– 1 bottle (4 oz) of Elmer’s school glue

– ½ teaspoon Borax (found in the laundry detergent aisle)

– Food coloring

– Plastic wrap

-2 bowls and 2 spoons

-1 cup of warm water

DSC_5093Step 1: Pour all of the glue into a bowl.

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_5100Step 2: Fill the empty glue bottle with warm water, then add it to the glue in the bowl and stir.

 

 

 

 

DSC_5101Step 3: Add the food coloring and mix well.

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_5104Step 4: In a separate bowl, mix the Borax with ½ cup of warm water until the Borax is dissolved.

 

 

 

 

Step 5: Slowly add the Borax solution to your glue mixture.

DSC_5114Step 6: Stir and knead the mixture until you have a bowl of slime!
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DSC_5124To store, place your slime in the middle of a square of plastic wrap. Twist the wrap around the slime, then add a small rubber band or paper clip to keep this in place. Your slime will last about two weeks.

DSC_5126 (1)FUN FACT: After your slime is wrapped up, gently touch the top; it’ll feel very similar to a real jelly!

During the month of November, join us on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30 and 2:30 in SciPlay Bay for a Jelly Jamboree!

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Winter Wildlife: Feed the Birds

With fall just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about winter wildlife! What happens to our feathered friends in winter? While some birds migrate to warmer climates where food and water are plentiful, other birds remain in our backyards – where food and water are more difficult to find. As fall fades to winter, seeds become scarce. As temperatures drop, water sources freeze. For those of you who enjoy waking to cheerful chirps or love the sight of a red cardinal contrasted with an evergreen tree, we’re sharing some ways you can encourage backyard birds to thrive through the winter.

Check out the fun feeders below! In addition to providing a food source for birds, they’re also a fun family activity you can make from materials you probably already have on hand!

PINECONE FEEDER

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Supplies:

  • Pinecone
  • Nut butter of choice; for a nut-free alternative, lard will also do the trick!
  • Knife
  • Birdseed
  • Pie tin or other deep dish to contain the seeds
  • Yarn

Procedure:

  1. Pour some seeds into your pie tin.
  2. Use the knife (with adult supervision, of course!) to coat the pinecone with nut butter.
  3. Roll the pinecone in the seeds.
  4. Tie yarn around the top.
  5. Hang it on a tree!

 

 

USEFUL TIP: When determining where to hang your feeder, find a spot several feet off the ground (where potential predators, like neighborhood cats, won’t be able to reach)! Birds like to feel protected, so look for a spot that keeps them relatively hidden – thick bunches of branches tend to work best.

 

TP TUBE FEEDER

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Supplies:

  • Toilet paper tube
  • Nut butter (or lard)
  • Knife
  • Birdseed
  • Pie tin
  • Yarn

Procedure:

  1. Pour some seeds into your pie tin.
  2. Use the knife (with adult supervision) to coat the toilet paper tube with nut butter.
  3. Roll the tube in seeds.
  4. String yarn though the tube and knot it.
  5. Hang it on a tree!

 

PLASTIC BOTTLE BIRD FEEDER

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Supplies:

  • Empty, clean plastic bottle with lid
  • Skewers or dowels
  • Scissors
  • Birdseed
  • Pie Tin
  • Yarn

Procedure:

  1. Use the scissors to poke a pair of holes directly across from each other.
  2. Thread a skewer through the holes to provide perches.
  3. Repeat the first few steps a few inches above your first pair of holes, for a total of 4 perches.
  4. Cut a small hole about an inch above each perch for bird beaks!
  5. Fill your bottle with seeds, then secure the cap.
  6. Tie yarn around your bottle and hang it on a tree!

 

CEREAL FEEDER

Supplies:

  • O-shaped cereal
  • Yarn
  • Large, blunt needle or twig (optional)

Procedure:

  1. String yarn through cereal. Use a twig or blunt needle (with adult supervision) to help if needed!
  2. Repeat the first step to your desired length.
  3. Tie the ends of the yarn together.
  4. Hang it on a tree!

DIY Science: Water Cycle in a Bag!

With all the rain we have been experiencing in the Triad lately, we decided it would be the perfect opportunity to have a lesson on the water cycle!

For this experiment you will need the following:

  • Plastic ziplock bag
  • Sharpie (to draw clouds and waves)
  • ¼ cup of water
  • Blue food coloring
  • Painter’s tape

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Begin your experiment by drawing clouds around the top and water around the bottom of your plastic bag. This will serve as a visual aid of the water cycle and how it works.

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Next, fill your plastic bag with ¼ cup of water, and add about 4 drops of food coloring.

Seal your bag shut, and hang it in a window (we recommend using painter’s tape since it is easy to remove once your experiment is over.)

Now it’s time to let nature run its course! Check on your bag periodically and notice how much condensation your baggie collects over time.

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What’s the science?

In nature, the sun’s heat causes water to evaporate from streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans. As the water vapor rises, it condenses to form clouds when it reaches cooler air. When the clouds are full of water, or saturated, they release some of the water as rain. Then the cycle starts over again.

The same principle can be applied to your experiment. Over the next few days, you will see that the water has warmed in the sunlight and evaporated into vapor. As that vapor cooled it began changing back into liquid, just like a cloud. When enough water condensed, the air couldn’t hold it anymore and the water fell down in the form of precipitation.

Remember, it is important to note that an experiment uses a variable (something that changes) to answer a question. To turn this demonstration into an experiment, you have to change something! Check out these questions to get you started:

  • Does the location (North facing, South facing, partial shade, full sun, etc)  of the window have any impact on the cycle? 
  • Does the amount of food coloring used have any impact?
  • How does the outside temperature impact the experiment?

Give it a try and let us know how your experiment turned out on our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter pages using the hashtag #gscscience!