Mini-erals; pt. 1

Over the holidays I was given some pretty cool crystals—the only catch was I had to grow them myself.

The lab kit included enough material to grow three different types of crystal; we’ll focus on just one for now, since each one grows at a different rate.

The set up was so simple a child could have done it (ages 10+, adult supervision required).
Materials included:
•A mixing bowl & spoon
•Plastic containers for mineral growth
•Monoammonium phosphate
•Crystal compound: aluminum potassium sulfate, sodium chloride, & brilliant blue FCF
•Glow-in-the-dark moon crystal base
•Cardboard tree


First, the crystal solution had to be made. This was done by dissolving the monoammonium phosphate in boiling water. After letting the solution cool down to about 40°C (104°F), it was poured into a plastic base in which the constructed cardboard tree was then placed:


*the solution in this picture appears blue because I accidentally got some of the crystal compound containing brilliant blue FCF in it.. oops!

In the picture above, you can see the solution begin to get absorbed up into the cardboard. This process is called capillary action; as the solution gets wicked up through the tiny fibers in the cardboard the water evaporates, leaving behind the small crystal particles that had previously been dissolved.

24 hours later: All of the solution has been wicked up and evaporated, leaving behind a snowy-white crystal tree!


*LaCroix for scale

Coming Soon: Mini-erals, pt.2



Charlie’s Magical Law

And for my next trick, I will attempt to move this red liquid through a glass tube using nothing but my hand!

(For about 22 seconds nothing really happens, but be patient!*)

Here’s the secret: The heat from my hand increased the temperature of the liquid just enough to create an increase of air pressure in the container; that increased air pressure is what pushes the liquid up through the tube. When the liquid is at the top of the container, air is then forced up the tube and cause the liquid to bubble. As the liquid cools so does the air pressure, causing the liquid to fall back down the tube.

And that’s the magic of Charles’s Law**!

*song in the video by Cherub
**the volume of a gas, at a constant pressure, expands as the temperature increases


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!