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Solar power is one of the great potential sources of energy we hope will replace FUninthesun polluting fossil fuels over the coming years. Specturm Scientifics has sold many teaching toys that use solar energy to demonstrate different effects, But did you know there were technically two types of Solar Energy generation? They are called active and passive solar energy and how they work is very different, despite coming from the same energy source (of course, pretty much everything has the sun as an energy source when you dig deep enough). Let’s discuss passive solar energy and the items we have that demonstrate it first:


If you’ve ever walked barefoot on a black asphalt street on a very hot, sunny day you are experiencing Passive Solar power in action. You might be fine on the brighter colored concrete sidewalk, but the black asphalt absorbs heat much better and can get uncomfortable to walk on barefoot. This is a very rudimentary demonstration of the sun’s power.

Another example is when you use a magnifying glass to concentrate light to start a campfire. Here the surface area of the magnifying glass is all concentrated into a single point that can get quite hot.

So how do we use this kind of solar power to make power that we can use? Well the present technique is Conctrated Solar Power. With this a large fields of parabolic or other curved mirrors are set up to track the sun and conctrate as much of the light as possible. The light is concntrated at some central point where a thermochemical reactionPS10_solar_power_tower  or heat engine is placed to convert the solar energy into electrcity.

While we lack the ability to ‘scale this down’ to a toy level, there are more than a few solar demonstration items that can be used to show the power of passive solar energy. The first being called (surprise) Solar Science


With this kit students will heat water using a passive solar heating system as well as as construct a miniature solar oven where they can cook and egg!

OK, so what if you want to step this up a bit? Well there is the Sun Spot Solar Oven



The Sun Spot is a much larger version of the solar oven you build in the Solar Science kit. Large reflective panels concentrate light at a wired point. Objects can be placed there (such as a hot dog). Temperatures at that point can easilt reach 350 degrees F.

Active Solar Energy

Active solar energy generation is probably more familiar to most of us, especially as solar panels become more ubiquitous. We use them to charge our smartphones, they power garbage compactors right outside our store.

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Active solar power uses photvoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electricity. While this does have the advantage of direct electricity generation (no thermochenical or heat engines are needed at a focal point) they do have a problem with efficiency.  The solar cells you can see on this trash compactor will each generate about 0.5V and 2W in direct sunlight, with 18 cells in total, you have about 9V and  36W. Presumably the power generated goes to a battery that can operate the compactor motor when it has sufficient power.

As for active solar items we have, where do we begin?

Solar Owl?


Solar Science Kit?


Solar Powered Rainbow Maker?


Solar Mechanics Kit?


So many Solar choices!

Want to buy Solar Science Toys?



Some more items from Modarri have come into our store. They;ve expanded the car offerings as well as recieved the body changes and tires. Lets have a look at the new Modarri Cars. First up is the DIY Street Car


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Tomorrow, the Space Probe New Horizons will begin its historic flyby of the Dwarf Planet Pluto.

Launched in 2006, New Horizons quietly ground its way out to theKuiper belt object over the majority of a decade and now is within hours of cruising around Pluto in a series of flybys.

Already New Horizons has given us better images of Pluto than we have ever seen before. Previous images of Pluto were taken with the Hubble

Seriously, this is it?

Seriously, this is it?

telescope and were, to put it mildly, not adequete. But in the past few days as New Horizons approaches Pluto it has whetted out appetites. Details are now visible, including geological details. Once the flyby NewHorizonsPlutostarts we should get more and more details.

Once Pluto is reached, New Horizons will do several flybys over the course of the next five months. Afterwards, depending on NASA’s whims and New Horizon’s remaining functionality it will try to study other Kuiper Belt objects. New Horizons actually has a spare hydrazine fuel tank for this purpose but that may not ensure functionality. The likey targets are the might-as-well-be-unnamed PT1, PT2 or PT3. Of those, PT1 is ceratinly reachable, the others potentially reachable.  Interestingly enough, PT1 was discovered using Hubble images some 8 years after New Horizons was launched.



You read that right, today we are reviewing and carrying a microscope that not only has a plastic body but plastic lenses. You might wonder what has gone wrong with us, after all we’ve listed plastic bodies (and by extention plastic lenses) as one of the warning signs of a bad microscope. But bear with us:

First of all, our major concern with plastic bodies and plastic lenses is not that they are inferior by default, but rather than they often demonstrate a lack of care on the part of the microscope manufacturer. Plastic bodies are often cheaply done and have poor deign, seams, constructions. Plastic lenses are often just pressed in a mass mold with little to no quality control or concern about optical alignment.  Plastic is an indicator of poor construction & optics, but it is not the cause of a poor microscope. The fact is: a well designed plastic body can work just fine  if attention is paid to construction and how it will be used, and while plastic lenses may never match the quality of higher-end glass lenses, they can certainly work well as a low cost substitute that can match and defeat the quality of low end glass lenses.

The reason we bring this up is the recently released My First Lab Mini Duo Scope


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In Biotechnology there is a process known as PCR. PCR, or Polumerase Chain Reaction is widely performed through a series of heating cycles that pull apart, duplicate, and fuse back together the two strands of a DNA double helix, PCR creates new copies of DNA that are identical to the original.

Traditional PCR requires the material be heated to about 95C, wherupon the DNA strands seperate, or ‘denature’. The sample is then cooled a bit  so the strands will anneal to ‘primers’, which are short DNA strands designed to bond to specific sections of the DNA strand. The sample is heated slightly more (72C) and  activates an enzyme called polymerase that attaches itself to the end of the primer. The polymerase “extends” the primer’s length based on the original DNA, thus recreating the desired sequence.

During this “extension” step, the polymerase reacts with the original copy to produce a new chain of DNA, thus the name Polymerase Chain Reaction. Since this process happens for both of the original DNA strands, the amount of DNA is doubled after one PCR cycle. Over many cycles, PCR exponentially expands the amount of DNA you were started with.

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No real blog post today. Here is a Drinking Bird in a time lapse. It drinks and drinks as the world goes by outside.


OK, officially summer doesn’t start for 5 more days, and local schools still have 3 more days before summer break kicks in, but still we can talk about some nify items we’ve added for summer fun! Let’s start with a classic toy:

The Aerobie Pro Ring



The Aeorbie, a nifty variation on the classic flying disc, has been around for a while now but still is a great summer toy. Unlike the more limited Flying discs the Aeorbie can fly the length of several football fields and holds the Guiness record for furthest throw at 1,333ft. Pro-Tip: When playing with an Aerobie at the beach, never throw it at someone with the ocean behind them. You may never see your Aerobie again.

This is the Aerobie Pro Ring with a 13″ diameter and retailing at $9.99.

Also from the Aeorbie company is the Aerobie Squidgy Ball


Squishy and fun, the Aerobie Squidgie ball’s soft, rubber fins make it ideal for children learning to throw and catch, a cool pool toy for kids of all ages, and a favorite for dogs.   For ages 3+ and comes in multiple colors. Retails for just $6.99.

T-Bolt Air Rocket Launch Set


If you can’t launch black-powder rockets, then give the T-Bolt a chance! This large (11.5″) durable plastic rocket is pumped up with the included pump and stand. It flies up to 150 feet high. Air power and the durable nose landing means you can use it again and again!



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