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Archive for May, 2012

High Flyer

Bernoulli’s Principle states that as the speed of something increases, like air, the pressure drops. It is this principle that allows planes to fly. It is also what allows the High Flyer to operate and be fun!

The High Flyer is a new science toy that demonstrates Bernoulli’s Principle using a jet of air and some objects to be subjected to the airflow. The battery-powered blower sends out a stream of air that causes the ball or plate to float in mid-air on that stream. What happens is that the air flows around the ball, reducing the pressure, while the air on top of the ball (or plate) stays slow and higher pressure to keep the object in place.  You can tilt the blower slightly to see how far the air pressure will hold the object in its stream.

You can also try and see how high up you can get the ball floating in the stream of air. Once the plate or ball is more than 18″ above the blower control of the object gets to be more of a challenge. The trick is to see how long you can keep it up there!

The High Flyer is both fun as well as an education on air pressure & Bernoulli’s principle, even if they don’t know it yet!


Projection Solar Astronomy

With the just passed annular eclipse out in the Western part of the USA a couple of weekends ago and the upcoming transition of Venus you might be inclined to buy  a fancy solar filter for that telescope.

Well there might be a problem with that. See everyone else had the same idea as you, and that means the manufacturers of such filters are pretty much out of stock! It can even be hard to find just the filter material! What to do?

Well, there is another way of viewing the sun without the use of a filter. It can be tricky and it can be dangerous if proper care is not taken.  That method is called projection astronomy. This is where you use the telescope & eyepiece to actually project the image you would normally see with your eye onto a board or other bright surface.

What do you need? You need a telescope with an eyepiece (preferably lower-medium powered), a sunny day, and something to project the image onto.

We came up with this kind of last minute, so we just used a flat box on a clipboard. It had problems with the box seams, but the surface was very bright (brighter than the average piece of printer paper) and so would give a decent image.

Crude, but effective.

Next up, we need a telescope. We used an Orion StarBlast 6 , mostly because that is what we had around the store.

Telescope is in action.

Note that the picture above shows the telescope in action. When setting it up and aiming it you should LEAVE THE DUST COVER ON.  This is the best thing for your safety.

Aiming your telescope at the sun is pretty easy, just try to get your tube to make the smallest shadow possible.  When you think you are on target, remove the dust cover and see if there is any light coming through the eyepiece. DO NOT look into the eyepiece, ALSO DO NOT LOOK DOWN THE AT THE EYEPIECE. View it from the side. We are not responsible for your losing your eyesight!!!

Now a further  safety warning: Try to avoid getting any body parts in the path of the light coming out of the eyepiece. Hold the board on the edge, work around the telescope, not over it, etc.

So now that you are lined up with the sun, you can see what kind of image you have. Place the projection board about a foot or so away from the eyepiece. Move it closer or further away to try and get it into focus. DO NOT bring it closer than 6 inches from the eyepiece, the light is a little too concentrated there and some types of paper might burn.

Some adjusting will be needed. It is best to move the screen rather than the telescope. If you must adjust the focuser, put the dust cover over the front of the telescope.

So what kind of view so you get? Well, here is a shot of the screen that is a little closer than the last photo:

This didn’t show up too well in the photo, but if you look closely, you can see some sunspots projected on to the board to the right and right/down of the center.


How well will projection astronomy work on the transit of Venus? We don’t know for certain. The sun will be very low in the sky and there may be more distortion or discoloration as a result. But if you have the time and the telescope, this isn’t exactly an expensive experiment! Just remember to be careful! Pointing a telescope at the sun always has risks – just use common sense and keep out of the path of the projected sunlight and you should  be fine!



BenchMark BenchMixer XL Mutli-Tube Vortexer

Vortexers are an excellent piece of lab equipment that allow vigorous mixing of compounds in tubes. The idea is simple, a rapidly rotating head which you hold the tube against to shake it properly. Let’s see the video:

As you can see, the shaking with the Vortexer actually results in a proper voretexing (in other words, the liquid looks like a little tornado).

However, you can see the problem: The little vortexer can only do one tube at a time and you have to hold it in place! That’s fine, but what about when you need some serious volume to voretex, or want to use a Volumetric flask instead of tubes?

The answer is to use a Multi-Tube Vortexer. But now there is a new, hig-quality model on the market at a low price: The BenchMark XL Multi-Tube Vortexer

The BenchMixer XL facilitates hands-free mixing in tubes, flasks, or cylinders. With a speed range from 500-2500 rpm and able to perform unattended for up to 100 hours this is perfect for jobs where mixing needs are great.

The BenchMixer XL has a large series of Tube Racks and flask racks available:

The racks can handle 0.5ml tubes, 2.0ml tubes, cylinders from 12 to 25mm, microplates, and 50, 100, and 250ml Volumetric Flasks.

The BenchMixer XL comes with a 2 year limited warranty and can be set to run on US or European current.  It is an ideal choice for a medium to high throughput laboratory.




The Care and Feeding of Splat Toys!

We love splat toys. Take something shaped like a frog, an egg, or a duck and throw it hard against a surface and *splat* its spread all over the place! But then it slowly starts to reform itself back into its original shape!

Before and After

Thing is, Splat balls aren’t perfect. They don’t work on all surfaces. In fact we had to put up a sign asking customers to not take them out of the packaging and try them out on the store floor. Why? Well, our store floor is far from perfect. It is a not-as-well-sanded-as-could-have-been hardwood floor that has a lot of dirt on it. We clean, sure. But every day lots of customers are coming in from outside and it just doesn’t hold up in the super-clean department.

Why is this a problem? Well, in order to get the full ‘splat’ effect the surface of the pig/duck/egg must be able to stick to the surface it is striking. Otherwise it snaps back to its original shape too fast to be impressive. If the surface it strikes is dusty or too rough (properties shared by our store’s floor) it will not stick.

Worse, the tacky nature of the splat balls (and I am referring to their surface texture, not their taste as a toy) means they will pick up dust like a magnet picks up nails. Many of these splat balls get ruined from being used on poor surfaces.

But not to worry! Many ‘broken’ splat balls can be fixed. All you need to do is give them a little handwashing. Be sure to use soap (hand soap seems to work best), and give the splat toy a good cleaning. Once the splat ball is dry the surface should fell nice and tacky – very tacky, actually. If it does not, try cleaning it some more.

Just to show you how well the cleaning works, here is a splat duck that had been covered with dirt & grime and would not stick to anything.  After a good washing it is back in business. Just watch:


Next Up in Solar Astronomy – The Transit of Venus June 5th (& 6th)

So, yesterday the Western part of the USA got to enjoy an annular eclipse…NO WE ARE NOT BITTER!

In any case, this is not the only solar event for us this year, because on June 5-6th there is the Transit of Venus!.

A transit is when one of the inner planets (which is pretty much just Mercury and Venus) moves between the Earth and the Sun. A small shadow of that planet can then be seen through a filtered telescope. The last transit of Venus was only just in 2004, but the next will be in 2117! So don’t miss it.

Note: Satellite Photo Image of Venus – your view probably won’t be this crisp!

Remember that looking at the unfiltered sun is very dangerous. Always use a filtered telescope or a projection system to view the sun!

The transit will be visible through the entire United States (and Canada & much of Central America) during the evening/sunset on June 5th. The transit will be in progress when the sun sets. Most of Europe will be able to see the transit on the morning of June 6th. Parts of  Asia, Australia and Alaska will be able to see the whole transit.

Don’t miss it!


Spider balls! Spider balls! Does whatever a…no, we aren’t going there.

Spider Balls are a new product at Spectrum Scientifics and a nifty one to boot. They are related to our popular Water Marbles but add a few twists to make them much more fun!

Spider Balls start out as clumps of green nuggest -rather odd looking and shaped.:

These nuggets actually contain lots of little water-absorbing balls! So when you place the nuggets in water they abosrb it, expand, and start to burst out of the green nuggets!

Ick! Gross! But fun!

The balls will absorb a huge amount of water and will grow to 100 times their original size!

These balls can be squeezed, thrown, burst, and squished. A lot of fun for just $3.49!


The Annular Solar Eclipse – May 20th 2012

Its a bit hard to write about a solar eclipse when the rain is falling, and doubly so when the viewing area is not where you live. But this is a rather important astronomical event and many readers might be in a position to actually see it. We are talking about the Sunday, May 20th annular solar eclipse.

Annular eclipses are when the Moon is positioned in front of the sun, but unlike total eclipses the sun is not completely blocked due to the Moon being further away than in a total eclipse. This means a reduced apparent diameter and results in the “ring of fire’ appearance.

The majority of this eclipse will take place over the Pacific Ocean, and only portions of the Western part of the USA will be able to see it take place close to sundown. Here is a rough map of the areas that can view a portion of this eclipse:

Folks in Alberquerque have all the luck!

Remember that special care should be taken to view an eclipse – view either via a projection method or with a properly made solar filter or eclipse glasses. Do NOT try to view using sunglasses. Even at sundown the sun can be excessively bright and harmful to your eyes.

Enjoy the eclipse if you can!




The Price of Rare-Earth Neodymium Magnets -Crash! Crash! Crash!

Well, it has been a few months since we last looked at the price of Neodymium.  We last looked at it back in September when the pricing bubble began to burst and speculator-driven prices began to drop. This is the graph that we posted at that time:

In September the price was in a drop.

The price of Neodymium had just started to tumble at that time from a peak of about $450/kg  to just over $300/kg. So how has Neodymium fared more recently? Let’s have a look:

Dive! Dive!

Its looks like it is pretty much in free-fall. The price seemed to level in January but failed to hold and continued to drop through lat winter. The price is now just over $150/kg. If you invested in Neodymium in July of 2011, you might not be a happy speculator right now.

But let’s keep this in perspective: In 2008 the price of Neodymium in China was at a mere $6/kg, so while the drop from $450 to $150 might seem huge, it is still many times larger than the price when China was cornering the market.

We still do not know how much further the price will drop or if it will level off. Some costs will remain with us: China’s pollution-fighting duties, etc. But the fact that several companies switched from using Neodymium to other sources (such as the Toyota Prius). Domestic production and other rare-Earth mines outside of China have also started producing and it is not in their interests to see Neodymium drop too low -while US mining companies might be happy to get $450 a kg, they will probably be OK with lower prices – but not the cellar low $6/kg.

Neodymium magnets are used in not just toys, but also in stereo loudspeakers, TV’s, turbine systems,  car parts, science instruments, and even smartphones.


Cell Smashing Time! Or, the new Benchmark BeadBug Microtube Homogenizer

Its not talked about a whole lot, but occasionally in Biology you need to smash things. Whether it is to break up cell structure (mechanical Lysis), or homogenize a material (make it the same all around) sometimes tissues need to be ground down and cell walls pounded out.  In the past, mortar & pestle were used – and in some places still are. Tissue grinders are also popular for this performing this process by hand. But hand-work is tiring and not always as effective as automechanical methods. There are larger, hideously expensive instruments that can also perform this process, but until recently there has not been a small-lab, affordable benchtop homogenizer. Once again, Benchmark Scientific sets a new standard – Meet the new BeadBug MicroTube Homogenizer:

The BeadBug can homogenize 1,2 or 3 2ml microtubes at a time and can break down the materials in an average of 45 seconds.  2ml Microtubes prefilled with glass, stainless steel, or High-Impact Zirconium beads are purchased as accessories. These beads, in concert with the BeadBug rotating at 2800 to 4000 rpm, are enough to reduced even the toughest cell cultures to a homogenized state! Best of all the unit measures just 7″ x 8″, so it takes up minimal space in your lab!

As mentioned, the optional accessories for the BeadBug are pre-filled tubes for homogenization. Glass, Zirconium, and Stainless Steel beads in a variety of sizes are available in packs of 50 tubes, or a starter pack with 10 tubes of all five sizes of Zirconium beads can also be purchased:


Telescope Assembly Review: The Orion XT12G GoTo Dobsonian!

We were almost going to list this under ‘Telescope tips’, but it really isn’t a tip so much as a review and examination of the process of putting a Dobsonian telescope together.

Now we don’t normally stock the Orion XTG Goto Dobsonians, they tend to take up a lot of space and shipping costs can get very high very fast. But we do get special orders and this customer wanted us to put the telescope together for them (a service we offer for a fee). So this was an opportunity to show the process of putting one of these things together.

Of course, this customer bought the biggest bear of the series: the XT12G


This arrives in three boxes: One for the tube, one for the base, and one for the mirror. The XT10G and XT8G versions need only two boxes as they come with the mirror cell already installed.

The instructions have you put the base together first, but we wanted to get the mirror stuff out of the way first so we fished out the tube from its humongous box:

We also opened the mirror cell box:

We took of the wrappings (and it was well wrapped: a plastic bag. foam, shrink wrapping and protective linen paper on the mirror surface!). Then we removed the cell from the telescope tube:

That part on top (which is actually the bottom of the tube) is what needs to come off.

The involves removing 6 screws and lifting the mirror cell from the optical tube. These were then placed on the worktable:

Now we start to sweat.

Here is where it gets fun: You have to put the mirror face down (on a clean, flat surface, we used the foam from the box and the protective paper that came with the mirror. Then you connect the mirror to the cells by attaching the adjustment knobs that are used in collimation. Once this is done you have an assembled mirror cell!


Now we have to get the mirror cell back onto the tube. This is not easy as the cell is heavy, and you have to line up the screw holes with each other or take it out and try again. You actually have to squeeze the tube a bit to get the cell properly on the tube.This means you have to play ‘huggy bear’ with your scope until it drop into place.  With any luck the screw holes line up and you screw the attachment screws  back into place.

Now, about that base. The XT12G is actually big enough that it not only has its parts but also a couple of braces on the sides. The XT8G and XT10G do not have these.  Anyway, here are the base parts disassembled:

Parts! Beautiful XT12G base parts!

Now, here is why I love the Orion Goto Dob series over their other models: See the base of the base? The Round part at the bottom? It comes assembled! This is probably because having the customer insert the motors, etc would be a lot to ask, but comparted to the basic XT Dobsonian clunky two-part assembly or the Intelliscope’s near nightmarish base assembly this is a breeze! Its like putting together IKEA furniture – although that isn’t automatically a good thing.

First up, we put the top parts together. Now I strongly suggest that you have a decent drill/driver with a phillips head screwdriver and hex-head bits for this job. Trust me, it will be very, very handy:

You need me!

The front piece attaches to the side pieces. When we first put this together we put the wrong side out (did I mention IKEA furniture?) fortunately, this was not a hard fix.

This is done with about a dozen wood screws with hex-heads. The smaller versions don’t use as many screws but they also don’t need the braces on the side.

This frame is then placed on top of the round base and the screw holes are lined up. About half of the attachment screws can be worked with the drill driver, the other half are a bit more difficult as you have to use the hand hex-wrench:

As annoying as this part is, I will take it any day over the method used with Orion’s other Dob lines. With those you must drive the screws up from the bottom of the top plate and into the upper base pieces. It is even more annoying than it sounds. This is simplicity itself by comparison, but it still can be a bit hard on your hands.After tis you attach the eyepiece rack and the handles. The XT12 has three handles since it is a big bear.

Done! (handles and rack came later)

Now it is time to place the optical tube on the base. This is tough as the tube is pretty bulky and heavy. The attachment method for this dob is to turn it sideways and place it in the base in a horizontal position. not easy as the other Orion models but not really that much harder, either.The tube attaches to the base with a screw that prevents it from ‘jumping’ or being pulled out by accident. We could get a shot of the tube being placed as it was just me putting this thing together:

Once assembled, the XT12G stands just about 5′ 10″ tall. I am about 6′ tall and my eyes were just looking over the top of the tube when it was standing upright. Like we said, it is a big bear.

After assembly, the optics must be collimated – both secondary and primary mirrors. Most telescopes come from the factory collimated already, but since we had to install the mirror it was very unlikely to be collimated from the start.

The control unit and other items were also not attached as this was going to be picked up by the customer.

In review: While the XT12G (or any 12″ non-trussed Dobsonian) are big and heavy, the XT12G actually assembles quite nicely.

Want to buy Dobsonian Telescopes?