This page is for independent thinkers, and will be more worth visiting some time in the future (a few other things keep getting in the way). This is part of a growing project, and there will always be some unfinished edges somewhere — you just found one! Here you will find a set of challenges for using science in creative ways, but please feel free to change things round to make a more interesting challenge.
Note: if you are looking for science fair or science project areas, this set of Web pages may help you with ideas for techniques you might use: read with a prepared mind! Alternatively, look at the projects collection which is part of this series, and which concentrates on that. Serious independent thinkers will go to some of my 'what if' questions and make up their own projects.
A rhyming cookbook
The nature of this challenge is to research a phylum, an environment, or some other grouping, and write a set of verses that will inspire others to eat those animals. Work out the animals you want to target, work out the sorts of word plays you want to slip in, and then get stuck in. I suggest quatrains (four-line verses) with an abab rhyming scheme like the example.
A bird census
You will need a computer, a camera and scanner (or a digital camera), some stale bread or other bird food, and a bird book from the library, which will be found in the 590 Dewey numbers: the study of birds is called "ornithology".
Take the camera outside and photograph as many birds as you can. Can you use bread or other food to lure some of the birds closer? Can you find a way to trigger the camera from a distance? How can you see what is in the viewfinder from a distance? Can you make a movement sensor, so the camera fires whenever something is in the right place?
If you are using an ordinary camera, get the film developed and printed, and scan in the shots. If you are using a digital camera, load them onto a computer. Then use the appropriate software to crop and improve the shot(s) that you like best, get the identifications checked (can you find a helpful expert on the Web?), and add them to a Web page.
A magic square is one in which all of the rows and all of the columns add up to the same number, and in excellent magic squares, the diagonals sum to the same amount. Here are some examples:
The 3 x 3 example is not very elegant: can you do better, and produce one which has the diagonals summing to the same value?
Design a magic square with a 5 in the middle, leaving out 3 and 7, but using 10 and 0 instead. (It can be done!)
Design a 4 x 4 magic square, different from the example shown here.
The 8 x 8 magic square was the work of Benjamin Franklin. Each row adds to 260, stopping half-way along each row makes 130. Going diagonally up four, across one, and down four also adds to 260 (that is, 9 + 58 + 59 + 12 + 21 + 38 + 39 + 24 = 260). As well, the four corners and the four middle numbers add to 260, and the sum of the numbers in any four-box square is 130. Any four numbers lying diametrically equidistant from the centre also add to 130: try this with the four corner numbers (52, 45, 17 and 16) or with the four centre numbers (54, 43, 23 and 10). If you examine the patterns and balances in his solution, you may be able to work out how he did it.
Leonhard Euler designed a 8 x 8 magic square, beginning in the top left corner, where the numbers progress in a "knight's tour". If you are a chess player and understand this, try it for yourself. If you need help, ask for it and then give it a try. (Hint: do four in each of three quadrants, and eight in the fourth quadrant before doing four in the third, second and first quadrants, then repeat to complete.)
Is it possible to construct a magic square of any sort, using only prime numbers? I suspect that it is not possible, but you may be able to prove me wrong — or you may be able to prove me right.
You will need a ruler, pencil, rubber, paper. A knight's tour is a closed trip around a board with squares like a chess board, visiting each square once and once only. Each "jump" is a "knight's move" in chess: one square forwards, backwards or sideways, and one square diagonally. A proper knight's tour visits every square on the board once and once only.
The best way to work out a knight's tour is to draw up a small grid, and write in the numbers, counting from 1, on the squares that you visit. Here is an example, using a 3 x 3 grid, which cannot be solved completely, as there is no way you can get to the centre square.
Task 1: Find the smallest size grid that can fit in a knight's tour, even if the tour is not closed (where you end up a single knight's move away from the starting point). (It will be no larger than 6 x 4)
Task 2: Find the smallest grid that can fit in a closed knight's tour (see task 1 for a definition). (This can be done in 8 x 8, but may be able to be done on a smaller grid.)
Task 3: Find a solution for a standard chess board (8 x 8)
Task 4: See the magic squares challenge to get a complete 8 x 8 knight's tour that is also a magic square.
You will need timber, nails, tape measure, and perhaps a rubber band, plus quite a lot of ingenuity.
You will need a cross-stave, and a clear night with a full moon. Observe the moon when it is close to the horizon, and again when it is closer in the sky. Measure the size of the moon with your cross-stave, and estimate its size with your unaided eye. What conclusions can you make?
Exoskeletons and how they work
The arthropods are all of the animals with jointed legs and no backbones: the insects, the crustaceans, the spiders and so on. You will probably find it easiest to work on a dead crab or one of the lobster-crayfish group, because they are larger, and the "shells" are stiffer and easier to work with. Also, the have "nippers".
Stop and ask yourself how a nipper might work, and then examine one to see how it really works, and if you can, look at the ends of the legs of a prawn (shrimp) and see if these are all the same. Scorpions are poisonous, but pseudoscorpions aren't. Find out about them, learn how to catch some, and examine them to see how their nippers work.
This is supposed to be all about you being creative, so go find out how the arthropods manage to grow a larger shell inside the smaller one they are moulting their way out of!
Aside from that, make up your own enquiries, looking at structures in various groups. How do spiders grip things? Do all species use the same legs or palps?
Here is some extra information
Verse about the seasons
There are very few simple verses about the seasons as we encounter them in Australia. I am working on a set myself, at the moment, so I know it can be done, but I am not about to publish those here — but I am prepared to challenge you to do better, without seeing what I have done.
Work in the framework of 4 to 12 lines in verses of 4 or 6 lines, using rhyming schemes like abab, cdcd etc or maybe aabccb etc. Pay VERY careful attention to where the stresses come, and see how much scientific background and Australian natural history you can slip in.
Think it can't be done? Wrong! This sort of verse is meant to be a bit off, like this example. This is not serious poetry, it is fun-poking time, and your words should be written to be read aloud. Some words are written to be seen on a page, but poetry was invented for recitation in times when few were literate: the rhymes and stresses help you recall all the words.
No animal that turns a plant
To flesh can do me evil;
Let's hear it for the little ant,
Let's hear it for the weevil!
Weevils come in pairs, it seems,
It saves them weevily troubles.
They think it best to work in teams,
They like to play mixed doubles.
One large, one small, combine to make
The veges turn to meat;
One high, one low, they take the cake,
Beneath their weevily feet.
You'll see the larger of the grubs
That eat your cashew nuts,
But the lesser of two weevils
Will be safe inside your guts.
Descriptors: Australia, biology, botany, chemistry, physics, pressure, heat, experiment, activity, zoology, surface tension, geology, electricity, magnetism, science, environment, education, pictures, photographs, simple, mathematics, number theory, home, creativity, imagination, fun and congratulations on finding this hidden list!
Investigate ways of making more artistic arrangements of leaves on sheets of paper.
Print out your three best works and display them.
On the practical side, can you put the plant names on the silhouettes in white print?
Create a small GIF file from your leaf images which is tileable, and use it as a background on a Web page.
Don't feel limited by this — change leaves to butterfly wings, road kill or anything else that takes your fancy. Maybe not roadkill, it might mess up the scanner, but feel free to take the ideas and bend them!
The main trick is to realise that a chess knight alternates between black squares and white squares. That makes getting in and out of corners a bit of a challenge. There is a fair amount of literature around: for books, look for "recreational mathematics" or "mathematical games".
Your cross-stave is made by driving small nails into a piece of wood, 35 mm apart. This piece of wood is then mounted on a piece of wood at least 2 metres long. At a distance of two metres, each nail is just one degree away from its neighbours.
Use your cross-stave to make a map of a few of the main stars in the sky.
The moon takes about 30 days to go once around the earth, which means that it appears to shift across the sky by about 12* from one night to the next, which means that it moves about half a degree across the night sky in a single hour. The moon subtends an angle of half a degree, as we see it from earth, which means that it moves one moon-width across the sky each hour.
Use your cross-stave to map and measure this movement, using the brightest stars within three to five degrees of the moon. make sure you record your measures every hour, and make a careful record. The best way would be to do the measurements as quickly as possible, and enter them onto a sketch that you prepared five minutes before the sighting time.
There is a limit to the accuracy you can get with the cross-stave. Can you improve on the performance of your cross-stave by getting further away from it, and using binoculars? Satisfy yourself first that the binoculars do not change the apparent angle, then use a piece of string 11.46 metres long, and see how well you can map things. At 11.46 metres, one degree will require marks 20 cm apart. Can you estimate angles to the nearest minute? Note: you may need to use a flagpole attached near the centre of the beam, and you will need to make it more rigid somehow: the magic word is truss. Or maybe girder . . .
Try taking photographs of the rising moon, from the same position, over a period of several hours. Once the moon is above the horizon, take some shots where the moon is 5%, 10%, 15%, 20% and 25% larger than in the original moonrise shots. Carry out tests to see whether the "inflated moon" illusion works in photographs as well as it does in real life.
(You will notice that I have left you room to add your own "frills" to the experimental design: discuss your plans with a reliable adviser before you go ahead, to make sure you have thought of all the variables.)
Afterthought: can you find a way of making the points glow, maybe with LEDs, so you can tell them apart? I think that red LEDs would be best (you work out why!) and I suggest that you think about having two LEDs every fifth marker (again, you work out why!).
These are some of the things I will be working on. Comments and suggestions are always welcome:
Take some tree bark, photograph or scan it, and make an interesting wallpaper for a Web page.
etch some alloys and examine the results under a microscope — see if acid-etching reveals anything about the shells of shellfish.
What invertebrates will people eat, and which ones won't they eat? Why?
Make an accurate timer (a water clock with a digital read-out?)
Find a way to generate Pascal's triangle in a spreadsheet (There is some information available on another page) — then see what sorts of patterns are made by numbers divisible by 2, 3, 5 and 7.
Here is Australia, it is bush fly time. How do bush flies find us?
GEM, The Gateway to Educational Materials
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