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 🙂

 

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’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 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!

[Watch] How and why do freckles appear?

[Watch] How and why do freckles appear?

Another great question this week, this time sent in by seven year old Daniel, who lives in Singapore; Daniel would really like to be a scientist when he grows up, but I reckon he already is one as he loves asking questions and finding out lots of facts about science and nature. In fact, Daniel is a regular to this blog, he often is the first to work out the Mystery Creature of the month!

Daniel’s question is…

How and why do freckles appear?

Many of us have freckles, Daniel has them too, in fact he appears IN the video as the freckle model 🙂 If you would like to know a little more about freckles (I bet you do!) just watch this video below!

Freckles are pretty common, especially in people with fair complexions, but before we look at how and why they appear, let’s take a closer look at what they are?

What are freckles?

Freckles are small spots on the skin, they are usually tan or light brown in colour. Unlike moles or some birth marks, freckles are flat on our skin. They are completely natural and harmless.

We are used to seeing them on peoples’ faces but they can be found all over the body.

They often become more obvious or more abundant when we expose our skin to the sun and that gives us the first clue as to why they appear.

freckles

Natural Sun-screen

Freckles are the result of a natural colour (or pigment) called melanin produced by the body to protect the skin against the harmful rays of the Sun.

This process is called photoprotection and this is how it works…

When UV rays of light from the Sun hit our skin they  trigger certain cells in our body to make more melanin.

The cells that make the melanin are called melanocytes.

melanocytes and freckles

 

The melanin is sent to the outer layer of our skin where it absorbs these harmful UV rays, protecting the skin cells (and the cells’ DNA) from their damage.

Usually melanin is distributed evenly around the parts of the skin that are exposed to the sun, causing our skin to tan.

When melanin is distributed evenly we tan

Sometimes though the melanin clumps together in areas, forming little dark spots that we call freckles.

When melanin comes together in small areas of skin we get freckle spots

So basically, melanin is a little like our bodies’ natural sun screen… which kind of makes freckles like natural sun screen spots I guess.

Who gets freckles?

So do only fair skinned people get them? No, that’s not so. There are probably a lot more people with fair complexions with freckles, and freckles tend to be more noticeable on fair skinned people, but people with all types of skin tones can get them too.

Freckles can appear on all skin tones

Freckles can develop on all skin tones

Freckles tend to run in families, so if your parents have them there is a good chance you do too. The tendency to get freckles is genetics… and is connected to a gene called MC1R.

So remember, freckles are natural and harmless. They are just a sign that our body is taking care of us and keeping us safe.

A big thanks to Daniel for sending in this question; if you have a question you would like me to answer just leave it in the comments below or sent it to me by email (drhowsciencewows@gmail.com).

 

The science of elasticity, energy and rubber

The science of elasticity, energy and rubber

Energy is a great subject in science. It covers so many things and I have many other aspects that I hope to share with you soon but one thing that explains energy so well is a simple rubber band; it can demonstrate elasticity, kinetic energy and potential energy and it great to use in some really cool experiments. Here are just a few short facts on the topic.

What is Elasticity?

Elasticity is the ability of an object to return to its original size and shape after it has been stretched or squeezed.

When we pull an elastic object we are applying a force on it called a stress. If we apply too much stress to an object it will eventually reach a limit called its elastic limit.

When an object is pulled beyond its elastic limit is cannot return to its original shape.

All objects will eventually lose their elasticity due to wear and tear, friction and stress.

Potential and Kinetic Energy

Potential energy is energy stored within something. Kinetic energy is energy in motion.

If we take the example of stretching a rubber band…

When we use force to stretch an elastic object, such as an elastic band we are filling it with potential energy. When we let go of the rubber band and it springs back to its original shape, the energy released is Kinetic Energy.

Did you know… kangaroos and other animals use the combination of potential and kinetic energy to save energy while jumping and springing?

Rubber

Rubber is a material that has very good elasticity. It is a polymer, made up of a long chain of repeating molecules, that can be easily stretched and bent.

Rubber exists in both a natural and synthetic form; the natural form is latex from the sap of rubber trees.

A bit of history

The ancient Aztec and Mayan civilisations are thought to have been the first to discover and use this natural rubber. They used it to make balls for sport and rubber shoes, although the quality of this rubber was sensitive to heat and cold.

Columbus is credited with bringing rubber to Europe.

In 1839 Charles Goodyear discovered that he could stabilise rubber by mixing it with sulphur at high pressure; he called this process vulcanisation.

When Goodyear died in 1860 he was completely impoverished due to constant legal costs regarding his rubber patents.

Did you know… the largest rubber band ball ever made weighed 4,097kg and was made using 700,000 rubber bands?

 

An experiment to try

Want to try an experiment that combines rubber, elasticity and kinetic and potential energy? Why not make a catapult? Or use elasticity to launch a paper plane. You’ll find out how, and a lot more of the science behind these experiments in this post!

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A new venture

This article originally appeared in Science Spin magazine. Although the magazine is no longer in print I am delighted to be sharing some science facts and experiments in a new venture… you’ll find my new SCIENCE FOR KIDS page in each edition of Easy Parenting Magazine. I share one of our favourite experiments in the April/May edition, currently in shops. Take a look…

 

 

[WATCH] How do planes stay up in the air?

[WATCH] How do planes stay up in the air?

This great question was sent in by six year old Cathal, who can sometimes be found over at Bumbles of Rice blog; Cathal has a really scientific mind and is always asking him mum lots of questions. Sometimes she sends them on to me, which I really love.

I thought that Cathal’s question was a great excuse to try out another whiteboard video, I hope you like it Cathal and keep those questions coming!

How do planes stay up in the air when they are so heavy?

It is a common question and one that we all want to know; especially if we are sitting on a plane about to take off! So if you want to know how planes stay up in the air, make sure you watch this video below to find out!


Planes are pretty big machines; the world’s largest passenger plane is the Airbus A380 which can weigh as much as 560,000 Kg.

That is a lot of plane to get into the air and keep it there.

The largest passenger planes is the Airbus A380, weighing in at a massive 560,000 kg

Even smaller planes, with all their equipment and passengers and baggage, are pretty heavy things, so how do they stay in the air?

We think of air as being very light as we move through it all the time. But remember air is made up of tiny molecules that can actually be really strong too, there are lots of them and they can move together with quite a force.

Air can be so strong it can blow over people, cars and even buildings when it moves very fast, like a tornado!

It can be strong enough to hold a plane in the sky too, but we don’t need to create extreme weather conditions to do so, we just need to consider four important forces, and get them just right.

The four forces are LIFT, GRAVITY, THRUST and DRAG!

These four forces act in different directions… Lift pushes the plane up, Gravity pulls it down, Thrust propels it forwards and drag pushes it back.

The four main forces acting on a plane in flight are lift, gravity, thrust and drag

If we can get these four forces balanced just right, we can get a plane in the air, and keep it there.

Lift

Let’s consider LIFT first, and to do that we need to look at the shape of the plane, and in particular… the wing. We call the wing shape an aerofoil, it is curved at the top, like this. This shape is designed to make air move faster over the top of the wing than below it.

When air speeds up its pressure decreases (this is in keeping with a law of physics known as the Bernoulli’s principle).

Bernoulli’s principle states that an increase in the speed of a fluid occurs simultaneously with a decrease in pressure

When the air pressure on top of the wing is less than the air pressure below the wing it creates a force called LIFT which pushes upwards on the wing.

Gravity

GRAVITY is the force that pulls the plane towards Earth; it keeps it on the ground. In order for the plane to get into the air, the LIFT force needs to be greater than the force of GRAVITY.

To get enough air moving over the wings of the plane it need to be travelling through the air at quite a speed.

Thrust

We use engines to propel the plane forward using a force called THRUST! The more thrust is generated, the faster the plane goes and the more air travels around the wings. LIFT increases until its force is greater than that of GRAVITY and the plane takes off into the air.

So far we have covered three of the four forces… LIFT, GRAVITY and THRUST. There is one more to consider… DRAG.

Drag

DRAG can be described as a force that acts against a moving object. So, in this case, the plane is being propelled through the air, by the force of THRUST, but that air is moving against it, and creating a DRAG force.

THRUST moves the plane forwards, DRAG pushes it backwards. In order to keeps the plane moving in the right direction, THRUST must be greater than DRAG. Planes are designed to be streamlined – to allow air pass around them with the least amount of resistance – to reduce DRAG.

A bit of Balance

So a plane can stay in the air once the four forces… Lift (up), Gravity (down), Thrust (forward) and drag (backwards) are kept at the right balance.

Essentially the plane needs to have no net force acting on it, which means that each of the forces balance each other out.

Newton’s Law of Motion

Let’s consider one more law … Newton’s Law of Motion which states that an object at rest will stay at rest and an object in motion will stay in motion, once there is no net force acting on it.

Newton’s first Law of Motion which states that an object at rest will stay at rest and an object in motion will stay in motion, once there is no net force acting on it

What this really means is that, once all these four forces are balanced, the moving plane, will stay moving… in the air… in flight!

Which is just the way we like it!

A big thanks to Cathal for sending in this question; if you have a question you would like me to answer just leave it in the comments below or sent it to me by email. 

Why does my tummy rumble?

Why does my tummy rumble?

I’m back with another great question this week, send in by Sarah, who wants to know …

Why does my tummy rumble?

It is all explained in this short video, just click to play (or, if you prefer, you can read the answer below).

While we sometimes find the noise a little embarrassing it is actually a really natural, and essential thing and shows that our bodies are working correctly, but why all the noise?

Let’s take a closer look!

The noises come from our digestive system, which is basically a long tube that stretches from out mouth to our anus! It usually comes from our stomach or small intestine.

The wall of this tube is mainly made up of muscles, called smooth muscles, which move in a certain way to push food through the system. This muscular movement is called peristalsis and this is how it works…

A small area of muscles contract, a bit like squeezing a ring around a part of the tube and this pushes things like foods, liquids and gases forward a little; then these muscles relax and the muscles in front of them contract and so on, pushing food and other content down the tube with each contraction.

Think about squeezing toothpaste from a tube!

The noises we hear are due to the movement of food, liquids and gases down the digestive tract. We associate the noise with an empty stomach, or being hungry, but the sounds are made when we have food in our system too. We often don’t notice them as the sound is dulled down.

When our digestive system is empty the noise is a lot louder.

It makes sense that peristalsis happens when we need to pass food through our digestive system, but why all the activity when our stomach is empty? Well this is the result of something called the Migrating Motor Complex or MMC for short!

This usually happens when our stomach and intestine have been empty for about two hours; a type of electrical pulse is triggered and this causes peristalsis through the digestive system. This serves a type of cleansing function; it clears any pockets of leftover food, mucus, bacteria and other debris from the stomach and small intestine.

The MMC response is usually triggered when our digestive system has been empty for about 2 hours

The MMC response is triggered every 90 to 120 minutes, until the next meal is eaten. It does tend to quieten down a bit while we sleep and then ramp up the activity again when we waken, which is why we often have gurgling tummies in the morning.

I hope you enjoyed this short explanation and video; Do let me know in the comments below and as always, if you have a question you’d like answered just leave it in the comments below! 

Are all raindrops the same size?

Are all raindrops the same size?

As you know, I love receiving your questions and I am always thinking of different ways to answer them. Some you will find in my regular column in the Irish Examiner, some I answer here on the blog, in written, video and info-graphic form.

Here is something a little bit different and I am hoping to make it a regular thing, so please let me know what you think and keep those questions coming!

Are all raindrops the same size?

In order to answer this question we need to first understand how raindrops are formed. And that story starts right down here on Earth. We have lots of water in the form of rivers, lakes and seas and when this water heats up it changes into a gas, called water vapour which rises up into the air.

The sky actually has lots of bits floating around in it – like dust and smoke particles. The water vapour tends to form tiny droplets of water around these little specks of dust and smoke and these droplets come together to make clouds.

At this stage the tiny drops are light enough to stay in the sky, but, as the cloud fills up with more and more of them they tend to start to bumping off each other and as they do they join together to form bigger droplets. Eventually they get so big and heavy that they can no longer stay in the cloud and they drop down towards the Earth as rain.

A water droplet needs to be at least ½ mm in diameter before it will fall as a raindrop.

Depending on how many droplets have joined together to make that raindrop, we already have drops of different sizes falling from the clouds.

What shape doe you think the raindrops are? Teardrop shaped maybe? No, not at all! Although raindrops are usually depicted in this teardrop shape they actually start off as nice round spheres. They have lots of forces acting on them, like surface tension which acts on the surface of the drop keeping it in that nice round shape.

As the rain drops fall they experience other forces too like air pressure. As it pushes from below and above the rain drops get squished into sausage like shapes until they eventually split into a number of small drops of various sizes and these are what fall to the ground.

So, are all raindrops the same size? Definitely not!

And they are not all teardrop shaped either.

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A big thanks to Ewan for sending in this question. Remember to keep sending in your questions. You can leave them in the comments below.

I’d love to know what you think of this video, there are lots of improvements I want to make and I’d love your comments and feedback.