The ultimate slime guide

The ultimate slime guide

I have been asked a lot lately about slime recipes that do not require borax powder (as it is difficult to source in Ireland at the moment); We have tried and tested some alternatives (it’s a tough job but someone has to do it 😉 ) and here are our favourite slime recipes.

Borax

Firstly, we do still love our slime recipes made with borax powder; our favourite is the glowing monster slime, you can find the recipe here. If you can get your hands on some borax powder, it is worth trying it out.

When people talk about slime recipes without borax they actually mean, without borax powder. These recipes (except for the silly putty one at the end) all contain borax in some form; I just wanted to make that clear as I feel many borax-free slime recipes are misnomers.

Making slime with contact lens solution

Luckily, when we can’t find borax powder, we can often find borax in other forms, in other products. One example is contact lens solutions that contain boric acid and sodium borate. If you can find those ingredients on the label then these recipes should work.

We tried out a number of different contact lens solutions (thanks to Elizabeth from Life on Hushabye farm for helping me out with this; Elizabeth is an optometrist). Thanks too to Sinead from Crafty Fun Kids for suggesting the boots contact lens solution, we have tried that one out too, as you’ll see below.

What solutions did we test?

For the purpose of this post we tried out three different contact lens solutions. If you want to try something similar just take a look at the label, ideally you want it to contain boric acid and sodium borate, but we tested one with just the boric acid and still got some results.

The quantities we state below may vary depending on the type of glue you use, the food colouring, contact lens solution etc so it is always best to add the contact lens solution in small amounts to ensure you don’t add too much.

These are the three contact lens solutions we tested:

  1. ReNu contact lens solution by Bausch and Lomb, containing boric acid and sodium borate. This one cost €8.50 for 120mls. Although expensive it we only needed to use a little so it will last a long time and it gave us the best results.
  2. Lens plus contact lens solution by OcuPure; this contact lens solution cost €4.50 for 120mls; it contained boric acid, but NOT sodium borate.
  3. All in one solution travel pack by Boots, containing voric acid and sodium borate. This one cost €4.99 for 60mls.

Basic slime recipe (with ReNu contact lens solution)

You will need:

  • PVA glue (white or clear)
  • Food colouring (optional)
  • Baking soda (Bread soda)
  • ReNu contact lens solution
  • Bowl for mixing and something for stirring
  • Measuring spoons
  • A sealable bag or container to store your slime in afterwards

What to do:

  • Pour 1/8 cup (30mls) of PVA glue into the bowl
  • Add a few drops of food colouring if using
  • Add ½ teaspoon bread soda
  • Mix all together
  • Add approximately 1 teaspoon of ReNu contact lens solution while continuing to mix. It may be best to add half a teaspoon first, you get better slime if you don’t add too much contact lens solution.
  • Once the slime starts to stick together and comes away from the sides of the bowl, take it into your hands and start kneading and stretching it. Don’t worry if it is still a little sticky when you start.

Our verdict:

8/10

This gave a great slime that was stretchy and non-sticky and lasted well once placed in a sealed bag or container.

Glowing slime recipe (with ReNu contact lens solution)

You will need:

  • PVA glue (white or clear)
  • Fluorescent paint
  • Baking soda (Bread soda)
  • ReNu contact lens solution
  • Bowl for mixing and something for stirring
  • Measuring spoons
  • A sealable bag or container to store your slime in afterwards

What to do:

  • Pour 1/8 cup (30mls) of PVA glue into the bowl
  • Add I tablespoon (15mls) fluorescent paint
  • Add ½ teaspoon bread soda
  • Mix all together
  • Add approximately 3 teaspoon of ReNu contact lens solution while continuing to mix. It may be best to add one teaspoon at a time and mix. You may not need all the contact lens solution and you get better slime if you don’t add too much of it.
  • Once the slime starts to stick together and comes away from the sides of the bowl, take it into your hands and start kneading and stretching it. Don’t worry if it is still a little sticky when you start.
  • If you have a black light (UV light) then turn try it out in a dark room and see your slime glow!

Our verdict:

8/10

Again we got a really nice slime that was stretchy and non-sticky and lasted well once placed in a sealed bag or container.

Fluffy slime recipe (with ReNu contact lens solution)

You will need:

  • PVA glue (white or clear)
  • Food colouring (optional)
  • Baking soda (Bread soda)
  • Shaving foam
  • ReNu contact lens solution
  • Bowl for mixing and something for stirring
  • Measuring spoons
  • A sealable bag or container to store your slime in afterwards

What to do:

  • Pour 1/8 cup (30mls) of PVA glue into the bowl
  • Add a few drops of food colouring (optional)
  • Add ½ teaspoon bread soda
  • Add 1 cup of shaving foam
  • Mix all together
  • Add approximately 3 teaspoon of ReNu contact lens solution while continuing to mix. It may be best to add one teaspoon at a time and mix. You may not need all the contact lens solution and you get better slime if you don’t add too much of it.
  • Once the slime starts to stick together and comes away from the sides of the bowl, take it into your hands and start kneading and stretching it. Don’t worry if it is still a little sticky when you start.

The shaving foam allows lots of air pockets to be trapped in the slime mixture, making it supper fluffy!

Our verdict:

9/10

We really loved this one! It is so soft and fluffy you could literally play with it for hours. Although some of the air was released after storage, it still kept much of its fluffiness which was a big plus.

Basic slime recipe (with Lens Plus contact lens solution)

You will need: 

  • PVA glue (white or clear)
  • Food colouring (optional)
  • Baking soda (Bread soda)
  • Lens Plus contact lens solution
  • Bowl for mixing and something for stirring
  • Measuring spoons
  • A sealable bag or container to store your slime in afterwards

What to do:

  • Pour 1/8 cup (30mls) of PVA glue into the bowl
  • Add a few drops of food colouring if using
  • Add ½ teaspoon bread soda
  • Mix all together
  • Add approximately 5 teaspoon of Lens Plus contact lens solution while continuing to mix. It may be best to add half a teaspoon first; you get better slime if you don’t add too much contact lens solution.
  • Once the slime starts to stick together and comes away from the sides of the bowl, take it into your hands and start kneading and stretching it. Don’t worry if it is still a little sticky when you start.

Our verdict:

6/10

This gave a nice slime that was stretchy and non-sticky and lasted well once placed in a sealed bag or container. We just felt it required more contact lens solution that the ones that contained sodium borate and took a while longer to make. Although this contact lens solution was cheaper, we had to use a lot more so it was less cost effective.

Glowing slime recipe (with Lens PLus contact lens solution)

You will need:

  • PVA glue (white or clear)
  • Fluorescent paint
  • Baking soda (Bread soda)
  • Lens Plus contact lens solution
  • Bowl for mixing and something for stirring
  • Measuring spoons
  • A sealable bag or container to store your slime in afterwards

What to do:

  • Pour 1/8 cup (30mls) of PVA glue into the bowl
  • Add I tablespoon (15mls) fluorescent paint
  • Add 5-6 teaspoon bread soda
  • Mix all together
  • Add approximately 20 teaspoon of Lens Plus contact lens solution while continuing to mix. You may not need all the contact lens solution and you get better slime if you don’t add too much of it.
  • Once the slime starts to stick together and comes away from the sides of the bowl, take it into your hands and start kneading and stretching it. Don’t worry if it is still a little sticky when you start.
  • If you have a blacklight (UV light) then turn try it out in a dark room and see your slime glow!

Our verdict:

3/10

It took a long time to get this slime just right and it required a lot of contact lens solution. We also found that the slime did not store well and was not much good the next day.

Fluffy slime recipe (with Lens Plus contact lens solution)

You will need:

  • PVA glue (white or clear)
  • Food colouring (optional)
  • Baking soda (Bread soda)
  • Shaving foam
  • Lens Plus contact lens solution
  • Bowl for mixing and something for stirring
  • Measuring spoons
  • A sealable bag or container to store your slime in afterwards

What to do:

  • Pour 1/8 cup (30mls) of PVA glue into the bowl
  • Add a few drops of food colouring (optional)
  • Add 5-6 teaspoon bread soda
  • Add 1 cup of shaving foam
  • Mix all together
  • Add approximately 10 teaspoon of Lens Plus contact lens solution while continuing to mix. You may not need all the contact lens solution and you get better slime if you don’t add too much of it.

Once the slime starts to stick together and comes away from the sides of the bowl, take it into your hands and start kneading and stretching it. Don’t worry if it is still a little sticky when you start.

The shaving foam allows lots of air pockets to be trapped in the slime mixture, making it supper fluffy!

Our verdict:

5/10

Again, it took a long time to get this slime just right and it required a lot of contact lens solution. We also found that the slime did not store well and was not much good the next day.

Basic slime recipe (with Boots contact lens solution)

You will need: 

  • PVA glue (white or clear)
  • Food colouring (optional)
  • Baking soda (Bread soda)
  • Boots contact lens solution
  • Bowl for mixing and something for stirring
  • Measuring spoons
  • A sealable bag or container to store your slime in afterwards

What to do:

  • Pour 1/8 cup (30mls) of PVA glue into the bowl
  • Add a few drops of food colouring if using
  • Add 1 teaspoon bread soda
  • Mix all together
  • Add approximately 1 teaspoon of Boots contact lens solution while continuing to mix. It may be best to add this is small amounts, you get better slime if you don’t add too much contact lens solution.
  • Once the slime starts to stick together and comes away from the sides of the bowl, take it into your hands and start kneading and stretching it. Don’t worry if it is still a little sticky when you start.

Our verdict:

7/10

This gave a nice slime that was stretchy and non-sticky and lasted well once placed in a sealed bag or container.

Glowing slime recipe (with Boots contact lens solution)

You will need:

  • PVA glue (white or clear)
  • Fluorescent paint
  • Baking soda (Bread soda)
  • Boots contact lens solution
  • Bowl for mixing and something for stirring
  • Measuring spoons
  • A sealable bag or container to store your slime in afterwards

What to do:

  • Pour 1/8 cup (30mls) of PVA glue into the bowl
  • Add I tablespoon (15mls) fluorescent paint
  • Add 2-3 teaspoon bread soda
  • Mix all together
  • Add approximately 4-5 teaspoon of Boots contact lens solution while continuing to mix. It may be best to add one teaspoon at a time and mix. You may not need all the contact lens solution and you get better slime if you don’t add too much of it.
  • Once the slime starts to stick together and comes away from the sides of the bowl, take it into your hands and start kneading and stretching it. Don’t worry if it is still a little sticky when you start.
  • If you have a blacklight (UV light) then turn try it out in a dark room and see your slime glow!

Our verdict:

6/10

Again we got a really nice slime that was stretchy and non-sticky and lasted well once placed in a sealed bag or container. We took off a few points because it needed a good bit of contact lens solution and because the slime felt a little wet the next day.

Fluffy slime recipe (with Boots contact lens solution)

You will need:

  • PVA glue (white or clear)
  • Food colouring (optional)
  • Baking soda (Bread soda)
  • Shaving foam
  • Boots contact lens solution
  • Bowl for mixing and something for stirring
  • Measuring spoons
  • A sealable bag or container to store your slime in afterwards

What to do:

  • Pour 1/8 cup (30mls) of PVA glue into the bowl
  • Add a few drops of food colouring (optional)
  • Add 2 teaspoon bread soda
  • Add 1 cup of shaving foam
  • Mix all together
  • Add approximately 1-2 teaspoon of Boots contact lens solution while continuing to mix. It may be best to add one teaspoon at a time and mix. You may not need all the contact lens solution and you get better slime if you don’t add too much of it.
  • Once the slime starts to stick together and comes away from the sides of the bowl, take it into your hands and start kneading and stretching it. Don’t worry if it is still a little sticky when you start.

The shaving foam allows lots of air pockets to be trapped in the slime mixture, making it supper fluffy!

Our verdict:

8/10

Again we really liked this slime , it made fantastic fluffy slime but it didn’t last in storage. If you are OK with that then it’s definitely worth making.

The Science bit:

We make slime from PVA glue if borate ions can combine with the glue, forming additional links between the molecules and creating the polymer we call slime.

This contact lens solution contained boric acid and sodium borate; in order for them to release the borate ions to allow them bind with the glue, we needed to add bread soda.

The bread soda reacts with the boric acid and sodium borate in an acid-base reaction, releasing the borate ions.

Making slime with liquid laundry detergent

This one took a lot of wrongs to get a right! I tried Aldi’s non-bio gel repeatedly, and with every alteration and variation I could imagine but I couldn’t get it to work.  Using washing detergents is a lot more tricky as borax is not listed in any form in the ingredients, instead it comes under the general term of optical brightener. My guess is that Aldi have changed the optical brighteners they use in their non-bio gel so the product no longer contains borax.

The good news is that I did find an alternative that does work… Lidl’s Formil bio liquid detergent (not the gel). We got the 3 Litre bottle for less than €5 but I believe there is a 1.5L option as well. Just make sure you get non-bio and liquid not gel!

Like the contact lens solution, a little goes a long way, so this will last us years!

Basic slime (liquid laundry detergent)

You will need: 

  • PVA glue (white or clear)
  • Food colouring (optional)
  • Lidl Formil liquid laundry detergent
  • Bowl for mixing and something for stirring
  • Measuring spoons
  • A sealable bag or container to store your slime in afterwards

What to do:

  • Pour 1/8 cup (30mls) of PVA glue into the bowl
  • Add a few drops of food colouring (optional)
  • Add about 1 teaspoon Lidl liquid laundry detergent (try and add this a little at a time as you make not need it all)
  • Mix all together
  • Once the slime starts to stick together and comes away from the sides of the bowl, take it into your hands and start kneading and stretching it. Don’t worry if it is still a little sticky when you start.

Our verdict:

8/10

This gave a nice slime that was stretchy and non-sticky and lasted well once placed in a sealed bag or container.

We combined this basic slime recipe with a variation on the glowing slime recipe below to make a mix we call… Cosmic slime; take a look at the video to find out how…

Glowing slime (with liquid laundry detergent)

You will need:

  • PVA glue (white or clear)
  • Fluorescent plaint
  • Lidl Formil liquid laundry detergent
  • Bowl for mixing and something for stirring
  • Measuring spoons
  • A sealable bag or container to store your slime in afterwards

What to do:

  • Pour 1/8 cup (30mls) of PVA glue into the bowl
  • Add 1 tablespoon (15mls) fluorescent paint
  • Add ½ to 1 teaspoon Lidl liquid laundry detergent (try and add this a little at a time as you make not need it all)
  • Mix all together
  • Once the slime starts to stick together and comes away from the sides of the bowl, take it into your hands and start kneading and stretching it. Don’t worry if it is still a little sticky when you start.

Our verdict:

8/10

This great slime that was stretchy and non-sticky and lasted well once placed in a sealed bag or container. This recipe worked the best with the paint. We also changed this around a little, adding other coloured (tempura) paints and combining colours.

You can change around the recipe to make your own creations; in this one we made two bowls of different coloured slime (using tempura paint) and them combined them for this cool, marbled effect.

Fluffy slime (with liquid laundry detergent)

You will need:

  • PVA glue (white or clear)
  • Food colouring (optional)
  • Lidl Formil liquid laundry detergent
  • Bowl for mixing and something for stirring
  • Measuring spoons
  • A sealable bag or container to store your slime in afterwards

What to do:

  • Pour 1/8 cup (30mls) of PVA glue into the bowl
  • Add 1 cup of shaving foam
  • Add a few drops of food colouring (optional)
  • Add ½ to 1 teaspoon Lidl liquid laundry detergent (try and add this a little at a time as you make not need it all)
  • Mix all together
  • Once the slime starts to stick together and comes away from the sides of the bowl, take it into your hands and start kneading and stretching it. Don’t worry if it is still a little sticky when you start.

Our verdict:

9/10

It’s like candy floss slime… what’s not to love!

The science bit

This is another slime recipe that relies on borate ions. This time they are in laundry detergent. As we don’t consume laundry detergent the ingredients are not listed in the same way; they do not need to be named as specifically as for foods. I assume that the borate ions are present in some form as the optical brighteners listed in the ingredient.

Pros

This was quick, easy, fairly forgiving and made fantastic slime. We preferred it to the slime we made with the contact lens solution. You can literally make slime with just two ingredients, and it is great slime!

Cons

You really only need a small amount of liquid detergent which can be hard to add in such small quantities. If you add a little too much the slime can be a little more rubbery, but it’s still cool!

To make the best slime you need to add a little less liquid detergent and just knead the slime very well in your hands; this makes for a messier process but you’ll be rewarded with some really great slime!

Silly putty (no borax at all)

This is a fun alternative to slime that requires no borax in any form and you probably have the ingredients you need right in your kitchen.

You will need:

  • Dish washing liquid or liquid soap
  • Food colouring
  • Cornflour
  • Bowl for mixing and something for stirring
  • Measuring spoons
  • A sealable bag or container to store your slime in afterwards

What to do:

  • Place ½ cup of cornflour in the bowl
  • Add ¼ cup dish washing liquid or liquid soap
  • Add a few drops of food colouring of your choice
  • Mix well then remove from the bowl and knead and that’s it!
All the colours of the rainbow – silly putty

Pros:

This is very fast and easy to make and kids love it! It is a great activity for sensory play for children. You can mix it up too, add glitter or be really adventurous and make rainbow silly putty, you’ll find how here!

Cons:

This silly putty doesn’t tend to last as long as regular slime (about a week) so you usually have to remake a batch anytime you want some.

A bit about safety

Firstly, we do not recommend that children do these experiments unsupervised! Some of this slime may look good enough to eat… make sure they don’t! Each one of these recipes contains something that may irritate sensitive skin (contact lens solution, laundry detergent, dish washing liquid and liquid soap can all cause irritation) so get the children to wear gloves, if in doubt. Both of my boys can suffer with eczema and can only have their clothes washed in one type of laundry detergent but none of these recipes affected them. Remember to get them to wash their hands afterwards and limit the length of time they will play with the slime, if you think it may irritate.

Our overall recommendations

If working with young children we’d definitely recommend starting with the silly putty.

If going for a contact lens solution try to get one with both boric acid and sodium borate, you’ll get a lot more slime for your buck at the end of the day. Our favourite was the ReNu contact lens solution, we felt it made the best slime and we needed very little of it so it will last us a long time.

Our favourite overall slime was probably the any that we made with the Lidl Formil liquid laundry detergent; it was the most simple recipe, the slime we made was really great and it will last us for a VERY long time.

We HIGHLY RECOMMEND making the fluffy slime… it’s like marshmallows or candy floss. It was definitely the favourite one… just remember not to eat it!

Remember, once you get the basics you can adjust the recipes to customise your slime whatever way you like. Adding some glitter to any of the recipes is a great place to start.

Enjoy and let us know how you get on 🙂

 

A review of the Cozyphones kids headphones

A review of the Cozyphones kids headphones

There are a lot of benefits to being the youngest child, you have more people to pander to your wishes, you tend to get away with a lot more than your older siblings did, and you can usually find someone willing to play with you. The downside… hand-me-downs! From clothes, to toys, to tech… you usually get something with a certain level of pre-loved to it. This doesn’t tend to bother my youngest much, but every so often it is lovely for him to get something new all for himself. Last month, to the envy of his older siblings, he got just that: brand new CozyPhones arrived in the post – just for him.

What are CozyPhones

CozyPhones are headband headphones. They come in a variety of different types; the ones we are reviewing here are the children’s ones. The earphones sit outside the ears, fitted inside the soft, fleece headband. These removable earphones can be adjusted within the headband, so that they sit just over the child’s ears.

The earphones should suit any device with a 3.5mm jack.

What he thinks

He loves them! He finds them very comfortable and cozy and finally has found a set of earphones that he can use for longer periods of time. He used to complain that other types just weren’t comfortable.

There is definitely a monster theme going one here

 

He even loved that he was able to pick which ones he wanted first, and there are plenty to choose from. There are frogs and unicorns and pandas and cats, to name but a few. He chose the monster, no surprise there!

What I think

I love that the headband is soft, comfortable and washable (as the earphones can easily be removed). They are also very, very robust (believe me they have been put through their paces). The wire is covered with chord rather than the usual plastic, which is a much more forgiving material when it comes to pulling, knotting and general rough-handling.

They have already prevented some big arguments in our house, when one child wants to listen to music and another wants to play on a device, but both want to be in the same room.

We have not had any long car journeys yet but I think this is where they will really come into their own; these CozyPhones are perfect for travelling, easy to store, don’t get in the way of the car seat and are soft enough that a child can sleep in them without any worries.

What I like MOST about the CozyPhones is the safety aspect. Up until now, my children have been using adult earplugs or headphones when they need to plug in and I worry about noise levels and safety. Firstly the CozyPhones earphones do not actually sit into the child’s ear and, more importantly, they have a volume limit set at 85 decibels. This gives me great peace of mind, I no longer need to keep checking and pestering my children to turn down the volume on their earphones.

The only downside I found was not with the product itself, but how to get it! Neither the home site nor those available on Amazon.co.uk currently ship to Ireland, meaning that alternative arrangements need to be made (such as using one of the many alternative parcel delivery services).

Disclosure: We were sent one CozyPhones headband headphones for review purposes. I have not received any payment for this review; all opinions expressed here are my own (and my son’s). 

 

Humour and Laughter in Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Humour and Laughter in Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Earlier this week I wrote about laughter in my Appliance of Science column in the Irish Examiner. I really enjoyed researching this fascinating topic; there are so many different avenues of study to explore but one that really caught my attention in the investigation into laughter and humour in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Some refer to it as the final frontier. I couldn’t squeeze everything into the column so I thought I’d share it here instead.

What is the difference between laughter and humour?

The research is still scant on laughter and humour and the differences between them. It is hard to analyse and quantitate such subtle, human things. What might make us laugh one minute, may not the next.

Laughter is used as a communication aid; from the gentle chuckle to the full on belly laugh, it helps us to convey our response to various social situations. We don’t just laugh at something funny, we can use it to build rapport, show trust and acceptance and to fill in the blanks in conversation.

Humour could be defined as the art of being funny, or the ability to find something funny; it is a two way thing. It is full of subtle nuances and relies on correct social interpretation and interaction – and it is innately human.

There’s no joke in delivering a joke

Comic timing and humour are difficult enough for humans so the challenge is great when attempting to transfer these abilities to robots.

Comic timing is a very subtle thing, and can be very difficult to pull off. Engaging in any form of humour requires a lot of real-time thinking, identifying and reacting to social nuances and a certain degree of empathy in order to understand when to deliver the line and to predict how it will be received.

How will robots detect these very human, and very subtle cues?

That is the next step in AI, programming robots with the ability to get in on the joke, detect puns and sarcasm and throw a quick quip back! There is a whole branch of science dedicated to research and development in this area. Scientists in this field are known as Computational humourists. And they have come a long way; these are just some of the algorithms they have created so far.

Acronyms and Algorithms

The hope is that robots will use computational intelligence to process conversation. Here are just of a few of the algorithms that have been created (you’d have to love them for the acronyms alone)…

SASI – Semi-supervised Algorithm for Sarcasm Identification … this machine algorithm, developed by an Israeli research team, was designed to assist AI with the recognition of sarcasm. They current report a 77% success rate and see no reasons why they cannot improve upon these results.

Scientists are discovering that the detection of sarcasm is a very important and useful tool for humans and would certainly be a great advancement in AI technology.

STAND-UP – System To Augment Non-speaking Dialogue Using Puns; This program was created by a team of researchers in Scotland to assist children that use computerised speech aids to help them with certain communication challenges.

DEviaNT – Double Endendre via Noun Structure … the software that tells dirty jokes. Developed by two computer scientists in Washington University to determine appropriate word triggers or phrases that can be followed with ‘That’s what she said’ lines and apparently working with 70% accuracy.

How far has AI come with laughter and humour?

Things have developed further than you might think. Any sci-fi enthusiasts will be aware how much humour has been added to the robots of the future.

It may have been nothing more than fiction when data got his sense of humour in Star Trek: Generations* (1994) but it was becoming a reality by the time we were watching Interstellar, twenty years later.

Detecting emotions in humans

Robots are making increasing advancements in the detection of, and response to human facial expression and emotions. Some of these advancements are a little unsettling … will robots be the new companions for those in their twilight years? Even more disconcerting is the robot that can detect a criminal just by their facial features.

On a lighter note, many of these developments are focused on detecting facial muscle movements in humans as triggers for laughter. They are well on their way to detecting different types of human laughter too (which is something that many of us humans still find difficult).

Software has even developed to determine the correct pause time in response to laughter cues, and in detecting hidden laughter.

Robots on the comedy scene

Robots are pitching themselves against stand-up comedians to test their abilities. Although it is early days yet, some, like Robothespian are certainly holding their own.

My favourite is the Nao robot. Nao is only 58 cm in height and I think, firstly, this is one of the elements that I find so appealing; this robot does not try to look like me. Nao has learned to interpret human laughter with a 65% success rate, and, when he laughs in response, he does so with his whole body.

He is also doing well in his comic abilities, scoring very close to a human rival in a recent stand up challenge against a human.

How do humans respond to robots telling jokes?

So it seems humans are well able to laugh at a pun delivered by a machine. In comedy stand up situation it may put the audience at ease as they are not worried about hurting someone’s feeling or letting them down if they don’t laugh. The stress of creating rapport is removed.

It appears that people will also take rude jokes better from a robot than a human.

It’s all in the data

A lot of these developments are achieved because of the amount of data available in the world today. From what coffee we drink, to what TV programmes we watch, everything is recorded. Every time we like a Facebook post or make an on-line purchase we add to this growing mass of information that is used to determine and code how humans work!

This’ll stop you in your tracks

A robot has been doing the TV circuit of late and recently stole the show on Good Morning Britain; I found the clip fascinating and unnerving in equal measures. The Robot in question is called Sophia; it may not help that she reminds me of a movie I watched recently on Netlfix*, called Ex-Machina (I’d recommend watching it, but maybe wait a while after reading this post).

The facial expressions and minute muscle movements in Sophia’s face is amazing; she is programmed with 62 facial expressions.

Take a look…

Is any of this really necessary?

I think it is fair to say that there is much progress still to be made in the advancement of humour and laughter in AI but it is still remarkable how much has already been achieved.

The question is, is this a good thing? Do we need or want our robots to develop such human qualities?

Computational humourist Vinith Misra suggests that these advances could be the way to “make healthy relationships between us and our machines “and may, in the processes even make better connections between us humans.

But is it necessary for machines to be fully integrated into human lives?

Those in the business believe that these advances can reduce human stress and ultimately strengthen human bonds. Maybe we can learn from AI about how to laugh and make others laugh?

Laughter certainly has a lot of benefits to us humans; does it really matter if it is a machine that is makes us laugh?

What do you think?

*Disclosure: As a member of the Netflix Stream Team I have received a years subscription to Netflix, free of charge, and an Apple TV, for streaming purposes. 

What are hailstones and how are they made?

What are hailstones and how are they made?

The simple science twins are back to answer more of your questions; this one is all about hailstones and it comes in from five year old Matthew who can sometimes be found over on Office Mum’s blog. Matthew would like to know…

What are hailstones and how are they made?

 

What are hailstones?

Hailstones are small lumps of ice that form in the clouds and fall to the ground when their size reaches 5 mm in diameter, or larger.

They begin as water droplets that freeze in the clouds.

How are they made?

Hailstones are made in certain kinds of clouds, called CULUMONIMBUS. These are thunder clouds and if the cloud is large enough and the winds are strong enough, hailstones can be formed.

Firstly, the cloud contains tiny droplets of water. Under the right conditions, these droplets are blow to the top of the cloud by strong winds, called UP-DRAFTS. The temperatures at the top of the cloud are a lot lower than at the bottom so the water droplets freeze rapidly. Then they can be caught by winds, called DOWN-DRAFTS that carry the frozen droplet back down to the lower part of the cloud. It gets lifted again, by another up-draft and combines with another droplet of water, which freezes, forming a larger lump of ice.

Every time it travels up to the top of the cloud it merges with more droplets and gets larger, freezing in layers, until eventually it is too big and heavy to stay in the cloud and it falls to the ground as hail.

Hailstones usually fall once they are larger than 5 mm in diameter.

The size of the hailstones depends on the up-drafts and down-drafts and the general weather conditions. When the up-drafts become stronger the thunder clouds grow taller, allowing the droplets to be carried higher into colder temperatures. This usually leads to larger hailstones.

The largest hailstone ever recorded was 20 cm in diameter and weighed 0.88 kg. It fell in Vivian, South Dakota, USA on July 23rd, 2010.

What is the difference between snow and hailstones?

Hailstones are made up of layers of frozen ice whereas snow is a symmetrical crystal of ice, usually a snowflake.

Hailstones are much heavier than snowflakes and fall at a greater speed.

Snow is usually formed during the colder months of the year, in Winter or Spring whereas hailstones can be made at any time of the year. That is why we sometimes get them in the Summer months.

 

Thanks so much to Matthew for sending in this great question. If you have a question that you’d like the simple science twins to answer, send it in to me at drhowsciencewows@gmail.com or leave it in the comments below.

 

Mystery Creature – June 2017

Mystery Creature – June 2017

We’re heading to the deep blue sea for this month’s Mystery Creature. Not the prettiest looking animal, and it certainly has some very unusual features; it’s a bit of a living fossil, do you know what it is?

Image credit:By Peter Southwood (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As usual, feel free to ask questions, look for clues or leave comments below. Remember to check back at the end of the month for the big reveal.

 

 

Mystery creature revealed – the Resplendent Quetzal

Mystery creature revealed – the Resplendent Quetzal

How did you do with last month’s Mystery Creature? I know I am a bit (very) late posting this reveal, I’ve been busy in the background, despite the quiet status of the blog of late.

Rather than a long ramble, back to the task at hand, the reveal… last months Mystery Creature was the aptly named Resplendent Quetzal!

Image credit:By Supreet Sahoo - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58173977

The Resplendent Quetzal

The Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) belongs to the Trogon family. There are two recognised subspecies… P. m. mocinno and P. m. costaricensis.

Here are five more facts about these amazing birds

1. These beautiful birds are found in mountainous rainforests of Central America. Their habitat stretches from Southern Mexico to Western Panama. They are particularly partial to cloud forests, hanging out near the top of the tall forest canopies, blending in with all the natural colour around them.

2. Resplendent Quetzal are not strong flyers. They prefer to take short flights or hop among the branches. They have an interesting toe configurations, with two toes facing forwards, two facing backwards. This facilitates good gripping in the branches in the forest canopies they prefer. They are not so good for walking though, which is why they are very rarely spotted down on the ground.

3. Resplendent Quetzal were much revered by ancient civilisations such as the Aztecs and the Mayans; They were considered sacred birds, not surprisingly, as they really do have a beautiful plumage of iridescent green/blue feathers with a red breasted front. Males tend to be a little more colourful than females. The males grow two very long tail feathers on reaching sexual maturity. These feathers can grow up to a metre in length and often featured in royal costume among the Aztecs and the Mayan people.

4. It is the national bird of Guatemala, visible on their flag and coat of arms. In fact their currency is called Quetzal too.

Image source: wiki commons

5. Male Resplendent Quetzal are not thought to reach sexual maturity for many years. This is when they grow those two impressive tail features, hoping to show themselves off and attract a mate. Males will also perform fairly lavish displays and dances, which an interested female may mimic. Mating pairs dig a nest out of rotten tree stumps or branches and both parents are involved in incubating the brood of two to three pale blue eggs that the female lays. The chicks are often ready to fly within three weeks of hatching but it can take a few months before they fully fly the nest. The mother will then be finished with her duty of care but it has been reported that the father will still supplement their diets for a year or more.

I’m sure you will agree, a very interesting and beautiful bird. Check back tomorrow for this month’s Mystery Creature, see if you can guess what it is.

 

What’s in a song? The science of singing

What’s in a song? The science of singing

How is your singing voice? I’d love to tell you how good mine is but my kids would be on that like a shot; they are only too happy to tell anyone willing to listen how bad their mum is at singing. So I reserve it for the shower, solo trips in the car… or for tormenting my children.

Regardless of how good your singing skills are, there is still a great benefit to opening your mouth and belting out a song, more than you might think. And as usual, science has plenty of facts to back this up. Some of these might surprise you.

The science of singing - boy singing

Image source: Pixabay.com

Some benefits to singing  – with a dash of science

Singing can improve our mood

This one probably isn’t of any big surprise; all of us have experienced singing in our lives, whether we are willing participants or coerced into it; but we all feel better afterwards. Why is that? It seems that singing releases a cocktail of chemicals that can both calm and invigorate at the same time.

When we sing we light up the right temporal lobe of the brain, causing the release of endorphins.  These chemicals can literally lift our mood and give us a sense of euphoria.

Studies have shown that singing can also cause the release of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone that can reduce stress levels and help calm the body and mind. Oxytocin is also connected with strengthening bonds and friendships between people which is interesting as many studies have reported that people that sing together in choirs reap more benefits than singing solo. One of the observations is that people who sing together will literally synchronise their heart beats.

Singing can improve our health

The benefits mentioned above can not only make us feel happier but also reduce blood pressure and feelings of depression and isolation.

Singing can improve our breathing and our posture. It can help relieve respiratory illnesses and improves our cardiovascular and pulmonary health.

Perhaps one of the most amazing benefits of singing is the report that is can improve the cognitive abilities and well being of people suffering with dementia. It has also been shown to help people with speech impediments (such as stuttering), stroke victims and sufferers of Parkinson’s  Disease.

Singing can help us learn

Singing can alter our brain’s chemical and physical make up. it can help us exercise specific parts of the brain and can even enhance our learning. In particular, singing can help us learn a new language. Apparently singing phrases in a foreign language can help us remember them more easily and for longer.

Whatever benefit you are after, it seems that singing really might be what you need. And if you are just too shy to try it, then you can simply listen, which has lots of benefits too, but that’s a blog post for another day.

What would happen if we travelled at the speed of light?

What would happen if we travelled at the speed of light?

My youngest child is seven; he is a boy of many questions. Lately he has turned his attention to speed, specifically the speed of light, and what would happen if you travelled that fast.

The first question came at bed time (why is it always bed time??). He wanted to know what would happen if he travelled at the speed of light and would it change time. I answered as best I could (while trying to back out the door and turn off the light) and left it at that but the question has resurfaced and I know this little guy will not let it rest until he is sure he has full understanding of the answer. So, to satisfy my own son’s curiosity, and in case anyone else out there wanted to know… here is a quick low down on high speed.

Let’s start with the basics

Firstly, the speed of light is a staggering 299,792,458 metres per second (or approximately 299 792 kilometres per second). Albert Einstein may not have calculated this, but he was the one that recognised it as the fasted thing in our Universe, a cosmic speed limit.

This is the speed of light in a vacuum and is commonly denoted as c. Light travelling at different speeds depending on what it is travelling through, so for light to travel through anything other than a vacuum, it will travel a little slower. For example, light travels about 90,000 m/s slower in air (that’s about 0.03% slower).

In water light travels at 75% the speed it would in a vacuum.

It’s all relative

Einstein’s work on this cosmic speed limit led him to develop a little theory, calling it the Theory of Relativity.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity…

E = mc2

E stands for energy, m is the mass of the object and c is the speed of light. But it still looks pretty confusing, right? Keeping it simple, this equation says two interesting things…

  1. it ties mass and energy together
  2. it says that nothing with mass can travel as fast as, or faster than the speed of light

You might like a refresher on what mass is… mass is basically a measure of how much matter (atoms) something is made up of, or how densely packed those atoms are. We usually talk about mass in terms of weight (kilograms) but when we do so, we are typically saying how much it weighs here on Earth.

 

Close, but not close enough

Light is made up things called photons and they have no mass. Everything else we can think of in our everyday lives does have mass.

Applying Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the closer an object (with mass) gets to the speed of light, the more energy is required to keep it moving, until eventually the object would have an infinite mass and require and infinite amount of energy to move it… and that’s just not possible.

So nothing with mass, including us, or a big rocket, can move faster than the speed of light.

The fastest speed of a manned spacecraft to date was achieved by the Apollo 10 lunar module, on May 26, 1969 when it reached speeds of 39,897 km/h (about 11 km/s) before re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Take your time

Where does time come into all this? Well, you might remember that the c in E=mc2 is a unit with distance and time in it, so time is part of the equation too.

What happens to time when we start to travel at close to the speed of light? The answer to that depends on where you are standing, in other words, it depends on where you are observing from.

Let’s take an example, and remember, this is all hypothetical… you are in a rocket travelling through space and you manage to travel at speeds approaching the speed of light. So for you, time slows down and you reach your destination in a relatively short space of time. You arrive, do whatever it is you went there to do and then head back to Earth (again at speeds close to the speed of light).

The main thing you would notice when you get back home is how old everyone is! People who were the same age as you when you left would be a lot older than you when you come back. Remember, as Einstein said, it’s all relative! It depends on where you are observing from; if you are on Earth then time continues as normal. But if you head off into space and travel at speeds that slow down time, then a little time for you will equal a lot of time back on Earth.

Scientists like to call this the twin paradox; if you took a set of identical twins and sent one travelling off in space at speeds close to the speed of light and left the other here on Earth, when the first twin returned from his cosmic travels he would be younger than his twin who remained on Earth.

In summary… we can’t actually travel at the speed of light, but if we could travel close to the speed of light then yes, time would slow down (for us anyway) but by the time we got back to Earth, everyone else would have aged more than us!

What did my son think of my explanation? I read this post to him last night and broke some of the theories down into seven year-old sized chunks of information and he was happy enough with the answer, he especially liked the twin paradox 🙂

Then he added some theories of his own… I’m not sure what Einstein would make of these but this guy certainly has some interesting ideas; Have a listen to a seven year-old’s theories on what else would happen if you travelled close to the speed of sound! 

Image sources: Rocket, time and light images were sourced on Pixabay.com
Mystery Creature – May 2017

Mystery Creature – May 2017

Check out this beautiful bird as this month’s mystery creature; Do you know what it is?

Photo credit:D. Hatcher; Photo source: Wiki commons

This bird was thought of as a symbol of liberty and wealth by the ancient Mayans. It appears on a flag and inspires a currency; I think that’s enough clues for the moment… over to you now!

Remember, as always, you are free to ask me any questions, or make guesses. This could make a great research project for a classroom environment. I will reveal its name at the end of the month, along with some interesting facts about this stunning bird.

Want to know what it was? Check out the ‘reveal’ post here.

Mystery creature revealed – the ‘by the wind sailor’ (Velella velella)

Mystery creature revealed – the ‘by the wind sailor’ (Velella velella)

How did you do with April’s mystery creature? It was a bit deceptive because it looked like a jellyfish but it is not actually one… it is the Velella velella and here are five facts all about it!

Image credit: Wilson44691 - Own work, CC0

So good they named it twice

The Velella velella is the only known species in its genus, therefore it is often referred to as just velella. It goes by other names too, the most common one is ‘by the wind sailor’ but it is sometimes also called the ‘purple sail’ or ‘little sail’. I think we can agree that sailing is a common theme here! And it is no wonder, it looks quite like a mini sail boat. It is deep blue/purple in colour with a translucent stiff, ridged sail along the mid line.

Looks like a jellyfish but…

It is not a jellyfish – it is actually a hydroid colony; it is made up of hundreds of small organisms, each with their own different function. Each colony is considered all male or all female. They are only about 7cm in diameter.

At the mercy of the winds

There is no way for the velella to propel itself around in the open oceans in which it is found. Instead it is at the mercy of the winds, moving in whatever direction the prevailing wind takes it. This is why, under certain weather conditions, large numbers of these are washed ashore, particularly after stormy conditions and high winds.

 Image credit: Dan from United Kingdom - Flickr.com - image description page, CC BY 2.0, Link

Valella can be found all over the world but mostly in tropical or subtropical waters. They are pleuston – organisms that live partly in and partly above water.

Eat or be eaten

Velella are typically eaten by specialized gastropods (mollusks) such as certain nudibranches. They are carnivorous themselves, feeding on plankton. The short tentacles that reach into the water contain toxins to stun their prey.

Although that are not considered a threat to humans, these toxins could possibly cause some mild skin or eye irritation, if handled.

Division of labour

The various life forms that make up the colony have specialised functions; some are involved in defence, some feeding, others reproduction etc. Any nutrients ingested from feeding are distributed among all the life forms of the colony.

Reproduction is by asexual budding (meaning that tiny new organisms , called medusa, are formed from little nodes that bud from the adult; these buds grown and eventually break away. This process of reproduction can produce thousands of these tiny medusa, each only 1mm in diameter.

 

Check back tomorrow for another mystery creature for you to solve!