Archive for the ‘Science News’ Category

Science behind hurricanes

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Hurricane Irene is the first named storm and the first major hurricane in 2011.  There is much news coverage about this at this time of the year.  It is very important to track these huge storms and to make accurate predications about their movements. Many people live in areas affected by hurricanes.

News agencies report the path of the hurricane to notify residents of the area who may be impacted.  If the National Hurricane Center scientists believe a hurricane is threatening to reach a populated area within 24 hours, they will issue a hurricane warning. People prepare by gathering and sheltering property and boarding up homes and businesses. Sometimes people will even be evacuated from an area if the forecast calls for an extremely strong storm. Many lives have been saved by these preparations.

Did you ever wonder how these names get assigned? The National Weather Service names hurricanes to quickly identify them. The names are assigned in alphabetical order alternating between female and male names. There are separate lists of names for hurricanes in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Origin of hurricane is WIND. The hurricane takes its name from the West Indian word huracan which means “big wind.” Storms that occur over the Atlantic or the eastern Pacific Oceans are called hurricanes. The same kind of storm that forms over the western Pacific or Indian Oceans is called a typhoon. This name comes from the Chinese word taifun or “great wind.”

STRONG WINDS.  Hurricanes have top wind speeds of at least 74 miles per hour, but wind speed can reach 180 miles per hour. The closer you are to the storm’s center, the faster the wind will be. The top wind speed will be reached within 60 miles from the center of the hurricane. As you move away from the center, wind speed is slower. At 300 miles from the center, the wind speed may be only 18 miles per hour.

How to predice the hurricane? To study conditions inside hurricanes, teams of pilots and weather scientists fly regular missions into these storms. They get measurements of wind speed, temperature, air pressure, and other weather conditions at different altitudes. These investigations help scientists make predictions about hurricane formation and movement.  NASA satellites are also flying above Hurricane Irene, providing forecasters at NHC with temperature, pressure, wind, and cloud and sea surface temperature data. All of those things are critical in helping forecasters determine how Irene will behave and track.

How do hurricanes form? Hurricanes and typhoons are not just violent winds. They are giant, whirling storms that develop in a special way.   The energy of a hurricane comes from the heat released when water vapor condenses to liquid water. The atmosphere above a tropical ocean is the only place enough warm, moist air is available to produce the energy necessary to create a hurricane.  Hurricanes form only in the tropics where extremely moist air and heat are concentrated over the ocean, near the equator.  Hurricanes develop during the season when it is a wet season (typically late spring to early autumn) and the water temperature is at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit both day and night.

Here is what’s going on:

  1. Evaporation of the warm water into the atmosphere over the ocean makes the air very moist.
  2. Winds blowing across the ocean in different directions begin to push masses of warm, moist air toward each other. This event is called convergence.
  3. When the air masses collide, the air in the center starts to rise, forming an updraft.
  4. At high altitudes, the moist air of the updraft begins to cool and water droplets form. These water droplets form clouds.
  5. Large cumulonimbus clouds begin to grow and thunderstorms develop.
  6. More thunderstorms form as more convergence and updrafts occur. If the thunderstorms do not dissipate, they may start to gather together. This formation is called a tropical disturbance. Many more thunderstorms join the disturbance. This weather event becomes large enough to be influenced by forces created from the Earth’s rotation.
  7. The tropical disturbance begins to swirl and becomes a vortex of thunderstorms. Updrafts are continuously pulling more air into the disturbance.
  8. When the winds begin to blow continuously at 23 miles per hour, the storm becomes a tropical depression.
  9. The tropical depression continues to gain power and becomes a tropical storm  when the wind speed becomes 40 miles per hour.
  10. At any time, the disturbance, depression, or storm can run out of hot, moist air and weaken or die out. If it continues to gain strength and reaches 74 miles per hour we call it a hurricane.

Check out the following experiment from Steve Spangleer science on how to simulate creating your own hurricane in a water bottle.


Microsoft Imagine Cup 2011

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Wow, it is great to cover two great STEM related competitions / challenges within the same week.   Meet the 2011 Imagine Cup winners at the Imagine Cup website.

Imagine Cup 2011

Tech companies investing in STEM

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

It’s nice to see big technology companies like Google investing in STEM education through various science related contests.  In the 2011 Google Science Fair, three amazing girls were the top three winners.   The presentations prepared by these kids were very high quality and consisted of presentations, interviews and videos.  Check out the finalists with their project descriptions at:

Congratulations future scientists!!

Application of the ‘egg drop’

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010
Egg Drop at Medina

A student dropping an egg from the school balcony

After the completion of the ‘egg drop’ in 2009, Ellis Corets visited a 6th grade classroom in Medina Elementary School at the invitation of Kristi Stroyan, the school teacher and a board member of the Cascades Science Center Foundation, to discuss the egg drop event.   Ellis asked the students, if they could think of a real world application of the egg drop principle. 

Ellis then asked them if they were familiar with the recent landings of the rover vehicles on Mars by NASA.  Ellis described to them that there is little or no atmosphere on Mars, so a parachute cannot be used, as many students were using to drop their eggs from the balcony in the school.  

NASA’s approach was to place the rover vehicle in a tetrahedron - they called it “Spacecraft Lander”.  A tetrahedron is a four sided figure, each side being an equilateral triangle.  The tetrahedron was then wrapped in the equivalent bubble wrap.  This package was then dropped from orbit and landed on Mars. It bounced and bounced and bounced and rolled and finally came to a stop.  The protective wrap peeled off.  The tetrahedron opened.  And the rover drove off into the sunset.  Read more about the Spacecraft Lander on NASA website.

Kids can create fun games using Microsoft Kodu

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Imagination fules creativity! What if kids can bring their imagination into reality by creating new-age exciting games? Kids can use the gaming world to learn about sciences – for example – there are interactive simulations on the computer that show how an aircraft works or what it takes to build a car.  What if the kids can also use their imagination and hands-on tools to showcase their ideas through a game and then play them with their friends.  That’s what can be done by a very simple language developed by Microsoft Research.  It’s called Kodu!  Kodu is a visual programming language made specifically for creating games.  The development tools for Kodu can be downloaded from  Kodu will also ship as a downloadable product to Xbox 360 in spring 2010.

We believe in order to fuel imagination and creativity in our youth of tomorrow, technology plays an important role in helping children build their knowledge base.  When I was young child I remember using a simple paper and pencil to “create” my other world.  In this age, where technology and computers are pivotal part of kids growing up, they need alternate means of “hands-on” experiences for igniting their passion.  At Cascades Science Center Foundation, our vision is to excite and ignite passion in young kids for sciences through hands-on experiments.  We aim to use different facets of sciences, including physics, technology and even biology in a blended experiment, so kids can learn in a non-linear fashion.

On inspiring a new generation of American scientists and engineers

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Bonnie Dunbar, a retired NASA astronaut, is currently the president and CEO of The Museum of Flight located in Tukwila, Washington.  In her recent article as guest columnist for The Seattle Times, she makes a great point about how the state of Washington must inspire a new generation of American scientists and engineers.  She cites the following statistics:

Washington state ranks nearly last among all states in the amount of science taught in the fourth grade: 20 percent of the teachers teach less than one hour per week. Consider that the United States now ranks 22nd among all nations in science and math scores, and that Washington state — though it ranks fourth among states in the demand for engineers — ranks 33rd in the production of engineers.

Other nations in Asia as well as India are graduating many more engineers than all of Canada and the United States combined. This is not the equation for solving our state or national challenges — or creating a future of prosperity.

And she urges …

Let us set a goal: to make Washington state No. 1 in math and science in the nation within 10 years, and that these scores exceed even those of the highest-rated nations internationally.

The spirit of this article aligns very closely to the mission and vision of Cascades Science Center Foundation.  We want to strive to establish hands-on interactive scientific environments for kids to explore their curiousity and be passionate about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).  We welcome community feedback on how this foundation can make a difference in supporting the goal of inspiring our youth to engage in the field of science.

Read the full article here.

U.S. Computer Science Education Week

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

The United States House of Representatives has designated December 6–12 as National Computer Science Education Week, in honor of Grace Hopper.  The purpose of this education week is to foster computer science education in the schools and universities – too few students are exposed to the opportunities presented by computer science.

Visit Computer Science Education Week ( website for more information.

The development of CSEdWeek is a joint effort led by Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) with the cooperation and deep involvement of the Computer Science Teachers Association, the Computing Research Association, the National Center for Women & Information Technology, the Anita Borg Institute, the National Science Foundation, Google Inc., Intel, and Microsoft.  

Microsoft has also launched a website to celebrate Computer Science Education week in the US.  The site contains a rich set of information, a video and links for educators and students, featuring software, opportunities and success stories.