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Deep Space

For many Philadelphians, Derrick Pitts is The Franklin Institute. Since 1978, Derrick has been teaching us to look up—and to wonder about what we see up there.

We all know that Derrick is an excellent “teacher.” What’s made him famous in Philadelphia is his ability to help everyone appreciate the universe as he sees it—not a watered-down sketch of the universe, but a rich, deep, complex version with human connections that everyone can understand at some level.

Derrick is currently the Chief Astronomer and Director of the Fels Planetarium at The Franklin Institute. He’s also been a NASA Solar System Ambassador since 2009 and serves as the “Astrobiology Ambassador” for the NASA/MIRS/UNCF Special Program Corporation’s Astrobiology Partnership Program. One of his newest honors is an appointment to the outreach advisory board for the world’s largest telescope, the new Thirty-Meter-Telescope at Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

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Kitchen Chemistry

As Dr. Lisa Chirlian always says - chemistry is the study of the way materials are put together and how they act under various conditions and best of all - - chemistry is ALL around us! Did you know that you have a chemistry lab right in your own home? These experiments from Dr. Lisa use everyday materials and can be performed in an ordinary kitchen.

Before we begin, there are some General Safety Rules to learn.

  • Always be sure to have a responsible adult supervising your experiment - in fact, make Kitchen Chemistry a family experience!
  • Never taste food that you are using for a science experiment - not only might it taste bad, it could also be bad FOR you.
  • Finally, as a general safety precaution, never mix bleach or ammonia with anything else!

Now that you have those rules - let's learn about chemistry!

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Green Acres

For a self-described “ecology geek” like our all-natural Science Guy Mike Weilbacher, the chance to be the Executive Director of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education (SCEE) —Northwest Philly’s 340-acre green treasure—is a dream realized.  Mike loves his post, creating new programming for the SCEE that will attract both children and adults to what he refers to as the “Mother Ship” of local nature centers.

Mike has been with Kids Corner since the start - he was our very first guest back in 1988! With his leadership, Kids Corner has been able to help kids become citizens that are capable of wrestling with the complicated environmental issues they’re going to get as adults. Plus, studies show that kids who grow up connected to nature are smarter, more emotionally grounded, calmer, more resilient; there’s just unbelievable benefits for children growing up with an immersion in nature. Join Mike every 2nd Thursday on Kids Corner.

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Note: this is not an experiment—because you can eat the results. This is a cooking project that shows how science is part of our everyday lives! Take care! The syrup formed in the recipe gets extremely hot. Please make this recipe as a family—with plenty of adult supervision.

Sugar is a very important part of candy. While candy is sweet, it usually doesn’t look or feel like the sugar we use to sweeten coffee or tea.  Heating sugar causes it to change in many ways, including the color and texture.   Careful heating turns sugar into caramel. 

You can make and eat caramel by itself or you can pour it over nuts to make nut brittles.  You can suck on it and it will dissolve in your mouth.  Caramel is hard and brittle.  But, if you add just a bit of baking soda, you can make an entirely different type of candy—still sweet but with a totally different texture. 

Baking soda is a very versatile substance.  It can be used in food, as a medicine and even to clean your counters.  Baking soda is a leavening agent, which means it causes cakes and cookies to rise when they are cooked.  Baking soda is used in the batter along with an acid (such as vinegar, lemon juice or buttermilk).  The baking soda and acid react to form carbon dioxide gas.  The carbon dioxide gas bubbles throughout the batter, created a light an airy texture. 

Honeycomb toffee uses the same principals to make a light and airy candy.  Vinegar is added to the sugar/corn syrup mixture.  The mixture will become very hot when it is heated (be careful!).  Observe carefully when you mix in the baking powder.  Watch how the syrup changes colors and textures as the baking soda is distributed.   

Honeycomb Toffee (Sponge Candy)

Materials

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup corn syrup (light or dark)
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  •  9 x 13 inch baking pan

 
1) Line the baking pan with foil and grease the foil. 
2) Mix the sugar, corn syrup and vinegar in a medium saucepan.  The mixture will bubble, so be sure the pot is large enough to hold everything!
3) Heat the sugar mixture over medium heat, stirring until the sugar melts. 
4) Once the sugar melts and the mixture starts to bubble stop stirring.  Cook until the mixture measures 290oF (hard crack) on a candy thermometer.   The solution will be extremely hot!
5) Turn off the heat and mix in the baking soda.  The mixture will lighten in color and become opaque.  Do not over mix because too much mixing will deflate the bubbles.
6) Pour the mixture into the pan.  Allow to cool.  Break into pieces and enjoy!

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