NASA Party



Germination (Not as Gross as it Sounds)


This is a little experiment I conducted to compare the rate of germination between seeds that were initially given access to light versus seeds that were left in the dark.


Paper Towels • Beaker • Pipet • Water • Petri Dishes • Aluminum Foil • Scissors • Soil • White Beans • 2 Cardboard Trays • Pen • Sticky Notes

I needed the paper towels to fit inside the petri dishes, so I drew a circle around the dishes on the paper towels. I found out my scissors were literally not quite ‘cut out’ to cut the paper towel circles, and I ended up jaggedly tearing the circles out (science isn’t always pretty).

Once I placed the paper towels into the petri dishes I saturated them with water; not enough to pool water in the dishes, but enough to make the paper towels moist.


Next, I arranged ten white beans into each dish; I covered one petri dish with foil, and labeled them accordingly.


And then I waited. Each day I would check to make sure the paper towels were still moist, and add water as needed.

Five days later, the magic began! The beans had begun to germinate, and it was time to plant them!


As you can see, it appears the beans that were given light during the germination have more sprouting. Interestingly enough, germination & sprout growth aren’t actually affected by light exposure. It’s hard to tell in the picture above, but more bacteria colonies were present in the seeds that were kept in the dark. Coincidence?

I then prepared the soil beds the seeds would be calling home.

germination5How cute is this tiny shovel?!


After the seeds were planted into their appropriate containers, I moistened the soil and left them both in a sunny spot. And then waited again.

Three days later, the real sprouting began!


It appears the beans that were given light during germination are growing more rapidly, however that may be due to the fact that they had more of a sprout when planted.

One day later, the ‘dark’ beans began to wake!


And the morning after that, I woke up to this:


I believe it is time to transplant these little guys and start harvesting some beans! Maybe I’ll give the ‘dark’ beans another day..

Side note: Happy 50th blog post!


Partying is Contagious

I threw a party the other day, and it was a riot! The exclusive guest list included my roommates Anthony, Sarah, Michael, & Lincoln, as well as my friends Elsa, Kayla, and Dylan; my cousin Emma even showed up! Other invitees included Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law–they couldn’t make it for some reason–and Matt Damon, but he was out of town or something. Nonetheless, fun was had!

Here’s a picture of the party set up!


After the party, it was brought to my attention that one of the guest had contracted a contagious disease within the last 24 hours, but were unaware at the time because they weren’t showing symptoms yet.

I thought back to the events of the party and recalled much sharing of drinks (my friends are very generous), and if one person at the party had a disease-causing microorganism, surely it got spread to at least one other person.

I took samples of everyone’s drink from that night, and tried to remember who shared who’s drink.


If I remember correctly, the night went something like:

Anthony shared his drink with Michael first, and then with Kayla and Emma after that. Elsa also shared her drink with Kayla, and then with Lincoln. Sarah isn’t big on sharing, but she did give Dylan some of her drink at some point. Michael dropped his beverage, so Emma offered him some of hers and after that let Dylan have a drink. Kayla and Sarah also mixed up their drinks on accident.

In case that’s confusing, I made a diagram (which also might be confusing):


To each drink sample I added a few drops of phenolphthalein, which turns pink in the presence of bases, such as sodium hydroxide (which was identified as being the contagious disease). Here are the results:



It’s unclear who showed up with the disease, but half of the guests ended up leaving with surprise party favours.

The lesson to be learned here is don’t share drinks; anyone could be carrying something contagious on the down-low.

And you should also probably avoid Sarah, Lincoln, Elsa, & Kayla for the next few weeks..


Ice Ice Microbe Baby

Alright, stop! Collaborate and listen.

Did you know there is an association for packaged ice? Yeah, I didn’t either. In November the International Packaged Ice Association (IPIA) will be holding their 99th annual convention, so if you’re in the San Antonio area around then you probably won’t want to miss that!

Did you also know that ice is defined as a food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and is required to have fewer than 500 microbial colonies per milliliter of thawed ice to be considered safe?

According to IPIA, which sets ice handling standards, approximately two billion bags of ice are sold every year in the United States. There are also 700 commercial ice-making companies, however 200 of those companies are not represented by the IPIA and do not necessarily comply with the specific packaged ice processing standards.

The IPIA recently sponsored research on the thresholds of bacterial contamination of ice throughout Southern California; packaged ice samples were collected from gas stations, liquor stores, and convenient stores.

132 non-IPIA complied samples were analyzed:
15 samples were found to have unsatisfactory levels of heterotrophs (organisms that can’t fix carbon and simply use it for growth; humans are heterotrophs).
41 samples contained unsatisfactory levels of coliforms (bacteria found in digestive tracts of animals/humans, plants, and soil; commonly used as indicator of sanitary quality of foods/water).
19 samples contained staphylococci (the bacteria responsible for Staph infections).
70 samples were found to have mold/yeast.

24 IPIA complied samples were analyzed, and none had unacceptable microbial levels.

None of the samples analyzed, non-IPIA complied or otherwise, were found to have Salmonella. This research provides evidence against the somewhat-popular belief that freezing kills bacteria; like many other foods, ice that isn’t handled properly could contain any of the bacteria or pathogens mentioned above, or even E. Coli.

As the summer progresses, be smart about your ice! Tips for buying ice include:
The package of ice must carry the IPIA logo
The bag must be properly closed and secure without drawstring ties
Ice should be clear, odorless, and tasteless
The bag should have a product code for traceability
The bag must be free of any foreign objects or particles
The bag must have the manufacturer’s name, address and phone number

Word to your mother!

Creature Corner, Vol. 5



Belonging to the scientific family Tachyglossidae, these spiny anteaters got their name from a creature described in Greek mythology, who was half-woman and half-snake, since the animal appeared to have qualities of both mammals and reptiles. Though a mammal, these creatures lay eggs, making them a member of the scientific order Monotremata; besides echidnas, the platypus is the only other member of this order. There are three known genus of echidnas, but only four currently existing species; there are four other extinct species known only by fossil records.

Like the platypus, echidnas evolved from an aquatic ancestor, but over time adapted to life on land. These animals are found in Australia and New Guinea, making homes in forests and woodlands. They do not tolerate extreme temperatures and use caves, rock crevasses, and the burrows of other animals as shelter. Being capable swimmers, they venture into water in order to bathe and groom themselves.


Though the diet of an echidna consists of ants, termites, worms, and insect larvae, they are not closely related to the anteaters of the Americas. They have course hair and spines, much like a hedgehog or porcupine, and are usually black or brown in colour, though albinos have been reported. The elongated, slender snout functions as both a nose and mouth and long-billed species can have as many as 2,000 electroreceptors; short-billed species can have as few as 400 electroreceptors. Their ears, which are typically unseen due to the hair and spines, are simply slits on the side of their heads.

Short, strong limbs with large claws make these animals powerful diggers. They tear open logs and anthills, and use their long, sticky tongues with tiny sharp spikes to collect prey. Their mouths are tiny and their jaws are toothless, so they break down their food by grinding it between the bottom of their mouth and their tongue.


Being solitary creatures, they have large mutually overlapping territories. With a low metabolism and stress resistance, their lifespan in the wild is typically around 16 years, however accounts of individuals reaching 45 years have been recorded. In captivity, the lifespan can reach 50 years.

The part of the cerebral cortex concerned with sight and hearing in mammals, known as the neocortex, makes up half of the echidna brain, whereas in humans it only makes up about 80 percent. Temperatures must also be around 25 °C (77 °F)  order for echidnas to reach REM sleep.

Echidna2R.I.P. Steve

Females weigh around 4.5 kg (9.9 lbs) and the males around 6 kg (13.2 lbs). On average the males are 25 percent larger in size, and have non-venomous spurs on their hind feet. Though the reproductive organs differ in each sex, both have a single opening, called a cloaca, which is used to urinate, release faeces, and mate.

Breeding season begins in June and extends into September, and the mating ritual is fairly odd. Know as the ‘train’ system, males will form lines up to ten individuals long and follow a female, each attempting to mate. Males may switch to different lines if they are unsuccessful. In the wild, it is challenging to observe them; in captivity they show no interest in mating, so no one has apparently ever seen an echidna actually ejaculate. Attempts at electrically stimulated ejaculation in order to collect semen samples have only resulted in penis swelling.

Amazingly, the male echidna has a four-headed penis, which is covered in penile spines to induce female ovulation. During mating, two of the head shut down and do not grow in size; the other two are used to release the semen into the female’s two-branched reproductive tract. Each time the male copulates it alternates the heads in sets of two.

Twenty-two days after mating, the female will deposit a single, soft-shelled, leathery egg, weighing about 380 mg (.38 g) into her pouch, which hatches after about ten days. The young echidna, which is called a puggle, remains in the pouch for up to 55 days while it develops spines and sucks on milk patch pores (monotremes do not have nipples!), after which the mother digs a burrow for the young. The mother returns to the puggle every five days to suckle until it is weened at about seven months.


Predators to these animals include foxes, domestic dogs, wild cats, and goannas. Snakes can also slither in to burrow and prey on the defenseless young puggle. When an echidna feels threatened, it will use it’s spines as a sheild and curl itself into a ball or attempt to bury itself. Keeping the environment clean of litter, planting vegetation for echidnas to useas shelter and supervising pets are all ways of helping to protect these special little creatures. Report hurt echidnas and/or leave them undisturbed, grabbing them may cause stress and could result in injury.

Here’s a fun and informative video with the reincarnation of Steve Irwin, Andrew Ucles, as he finds a echidna in the wild! (Warning: he’s very attractive):