Curiosity queen; writing science, history,
and everything in between
Writing a recipe is harder than it looks. I found this out when a children’s magazine editor asked me to add a recipe to my article about eating insects.
First, I thumbed through my recipe file mentally substituting bugs for a vital ingredient. Mushrooms stuffed with millipedes was out. (Most kids don’t like mushrooms.) I nixed beetle sausage, also. (Too much chopping and frying in a hot skillet.) Flipping to desserts, I chose toffee. I could substitute bugs for nuts.
After my trip to the grocery store for butter, sugar and chocolate chips, I visited the pet shop, and asked for a cup of mealworms, which are fly larvae (also known as maggots, but that’s not very appetizing). The man handed me a little carton that looked like a Skippy cup of ice cream. I wrote that down because I would need to pass that information on to readers who, like me, had no clue how to purchase creepy-crawlies.
With all the ingredients on the counter I recorded each step:
After that, I was on familiar ground blending butter and sugar, and sprinkling chocolate chips.
I called my concoction Toffee Surprise, and taste-tested it in a large group setting where peer pressure encouraged full participation -- my mother’s birthday party! The verdict: The toffee was yummy, crunchy, and sweet with a subtle earthy aftertaste.
Although I don’t plan on cooking more edible vermin, I did learn some important rules for writing a recipe: Choose a food that is reader-friendly; be aware of your readers’ abilities and safety issues; record every step in order; pay attention to even the smallest details; and prepare it yourself so you can work out the bugs (no pun intended).
Peggy Thomas is the co-author of Anatomy of Nonfiction, the only writer's guide for children's nonfiction. To find out more about Peggy, visit her website. She also has a blog for writers, based on the book.
Peggy Thomas is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through FieldTripZoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Thomas, Peggy. “How to Take an Elephant’s Temperature.” Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 7 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/baking-with-bugs;-how-to-write-a-recipe.
David M. Schwartz
The amazing, engaging, math exponent
'Tis the season. The rotting season.
You thought Halloween was full of ghosts, goblins and ghouls? Well, wait until the post-Halloween season. This is when your Jack O' Lantern begins its ghoulish decline. It starts as a pumpkin and it ends as a heap of goo. This is scary!
Now is when your Halloween pumpkin begins to rot. Don't get me wrong. Rot is not gross. It is a beautiful thing—beautiful in its own deliciously disgusting way.
You start with a proud Jack, a plump, shiny-skinned pumpkin. Halloween is over so you leave it on your porch, or inside by the window, or maybe you toss it into the garden or onto the compost heap.
It attracts some visitors. A squirrel. A pair of mice. A scurry of sow bugs. They chew the skin of the pumpkin, leaving moist, rough surfaces, just perfect for the next wave of invaders: the molds and fungi and bacteria that start to grow. There are dozens, even hundreds, of types of organisms waiting to sink their "teeth" into pumpkin flesh as soon as the conditions are right. One kind of invader changes the conditions of the flesh to make it perfect for the next one. Meanwhile, the poor pumpkin is looking less and less like a pumpkin. Its skin turns to shades of black, gray and white, with only a few patches of dull orange. Its shape collapses into a heap, then a pile of mush, and then . . . well, no shape at all.
Do you think rot rots? Imagine what your life would be like if things didn't rot. You'd be tripping over all the old pumpkins, not to mention mice, eagles, tomato plants, oak trees and everything else that ever walked, flew, swam or grew upon the earth. Their dead bodies simply wouldn't go away! Worse, their nutrients would be locked forever inside. The energy in the molecules they are made of would be unavailable to any other living things. Rot, properly known as "decomposition," releases all those good vitamins, sugars, proteins, carbohydrates and energy so that they can be used by next year's pumpkin, which will grow from the seeds of last year's pumpkin. Mice and eagles, tomatoes and the trees in a nearby forest can grow and reproduce because nutrients and energy pass through complex food webs from plants to the animals that eat those plants, to other animals that eat those animals.
It's all possible because of rot. So you see, rot doesn't rot. Rot rocks!
David is the author of > 50 books on math and science, including his newest, rottenest title, Rotten Pumpkin. For more information, click here.
David is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
The "Julia Child" of kids' hands-on science.
How well do you handle spicy food? Do you find food with a “kick” eye-watering and difficult to swallow? Or are you a real “fire eater;” nothing can be too hot?
A scientist, named Wilbur Scoville, figured out how to rank spicy food for hotness in 1912. The “heat” from peppers comes from a chemical called capsaicin (cap-say-sin). Pure capsaicin registers 16 million heat units on the Scoville scale. Zero is a sweet green, red or yellow pepper. A fresh, green Jalapeño (ha-la-pen-yo) is rated 2,500-8,000 units, a lot less hot than pure capsaicin.
The fact is that you don’t “taste” the heat. The sensation of heat comes from nerve endings in your tongue that respond to pain. Of course, these nerve endings are not just in your tongue. They are all over your body. So a good scientific question is: Can you “taste” hot sauce with, say, your wrist?
Check it out. Rub the inside of your wrist with a cut Jalapeño pepper or some hot sauce. Wait a few minutes. Feel the burn? Rinse off your wrist well with cool water.
Your tongue, of course, is much more sensitive than your wrist to many chemicals because it is always wet. Capsaicin, like a lot of other chemicals dissolves in water and reaches those nerve endings more quickly.
Another liquid that triggers your pain nerves in your tongue is soda. The carbon dioxide in the bubbles reacts with an enzyme in your mouth to form a weak chemical called carbonic acid. This acid fires the pain nerve endings in your tongue giving soda its “bite.”
How well can you tolerate this pain? Stick your tongue into a freshly opened glass of soda and hold it there. See how long you can keep it in the drink. One minute? Two minutes? Most people can’t last a minute. But maybe you’re tougher than that.
Some Mexican parents give their kids mixtures of sugar and red chili powder when they’re little to build up their tolerance for spicy foods. Do you think that people who love spicy food could also be champions at keeping their tongues immersed in soda? Design an experiment to find out at your next party.
These videos were made from Vicki Cobb’s book We Dare You! She invites you to join her video project and make your own videos from her book and post them on the www.wedareyouvideos.com website.
Vicki Cobb is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Cobb, Vicki. "Some Painful Truth." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 17 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/some-painful-truth.
Science through the lens
Do you know about the “birds and the bees?” If you don’t, don’t worry. You will learn soon enough.
When it comes to flowers there’s nothing to hide. There’s just no way around it—flowers are sexy. Their colorful, curvy petals are soft as velvet and as fragrant as the most expensive perfumes. Their nectar is as sweet as…well, honey. Besides being pretty, flowers have power. Their pollen is packed with protein. No wonder the birds and the bees, and insects of many kinds, find them so irresistible.
Pollen may be the perfect food for bees, but it is also the way plants get together. Think about it. Plants can’t walk, crawl, swim, or fly. So, how does boy meet girl?
In order to reproduce, the pollen from the male has to have direct contact with the female (and I don’t mean texting). Pollen grains are carried on the legs of bees and in the beaks of birds, from one flower to another. A few grains become engaged, hitched, and literally stuck on the sticky female flower part called the stigma. Sugar from the stigma fuels the pollen grain to sprout a tube. This pollen tube grows downward through the female part called the pistil and into the chambers that contain tiny bubble shaped eggs. When the tip of the pollen tube finally reaches an egg chamber it releases a male sperm cell. The sperm and the egg unite, and a brand-new cell is formed. This is the beginning of a seed.
Picture an apple. Before the apple was a fruit containing seeds, it was a very sexy flower. So the next time someone asks you if you know about the birds and the bees, tell them about flower power. They might be surprised how plants get together to make baby plants, which in scientific terms is an interesting example of the process called sexual reproduction.
Pollen is contained in the anthers, which are the six slipper shaped sacs at the end of the stamens. The female stigma is the rounded tip located at the top of the style. The pollen tube is a microscopic tube that grows through the style and into the ovary, which is hidden inside the base of this flower. Hanging down, at the lower right side of the photo are the remains of another flower. The petals and stamen have fallen off revealing the entire pistil: the stigma, style, and the ovary (green structure), which holds the eggs. Photo credit © Alexandra Siy
Why not watch some web-spinners do their thing with the help of this stunning and superlative book by Alexandra Siy? You can read more about it here.
Alexandra Siy is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
By Sarah Albee
Celebrating the History of Science and the Science behind History
Do you like ketchup? Maybe relish is your favorite condiment. Well, people in the ancient world had a favorite condiment, too. It was called garum. The ancient Greeks couldn’t get enough of it. Later, the Byzantines loved it, too. But garum was most popular during ancient Roman times. (The Roman Empire lasted from 27 BC to AD 476, so they must have gobbled down a lot of garum.)
The problem with garum was that making it could be an extremely stinky process. Garum makers were told to move their factories to the outskirts of the city, although probably no one enforced this.
The Romans dumped garum onto practically everything they ate. Should you be curious to try garum yourself, I’ve written out the recipe for you. You’re welcome.
Garum is actually quite nutritious—full of amino acids, proteins, and vitamin D from all that time in the sun. And the rotten sludge left at the bottom is also highly nutritious, so you can save that for another use. Try spreading it on toast!
(c) Sarah Albee, 2014
A Roman banquet
Sarah Albee's latest book is Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions and Murderous Medicines. You can read a review that gives you a dose of what's in this book.
MLA 8 Citation
Albee, Sarah. "Something's Rotten in Rome." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 15 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/somethings-rotten-in-rome.