Sunday, May 27, 2012

Space Program: Mars

As usual (2011, 2010, 2009, 2008), we took advantage of the empty city on Memorial Day weekend, this time to take a look at Tom Sach's "Space Program: Mars" installation at the Park Avenue Armory. It ended up being as much a theatrical event as an installation. The staff were fully "indoctrinated" for the voyage, and we were enjoined to join the mission too (we declined). A sly sense of humor pervaded the exhibit but it was very light on the science, drawing its inspiration from forty year old Apollo era Moon-shot technology.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Drats! Contamination!

Well, we had to abort our ambitious science project after we discovered something got into our yeast broth and contaminated it. The broth became cloudy, then bubbles formed on the surface, and finally a white sediment formed on the bottom. Although we had taken care not to get yeast from our culture tubes into the broth, it looked like yeast contamination. We hypothesized that airborne yeast must have found its way into the broth. So this became the topic of the revised experiment. We brewed up some new broth, and left it out for a few days to see if we could reproduce the contamination. And we did! The microscope revealed the sediment contained wee-beasties with the expected shape and size of yeast.

The cloudy, contaminated broth after two days. Notice the sediment on the bottom.
Reproducing the contamination after two days.

A video of the sediment at 400X magnification.
The sediment at 400X magnification.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Whitney Biennial

Today we realized that only one week remains before the Whitney Biennial closes so we hustled over to the East side on this gorgeous Sunday afternoon. But after touring the galleries, we were left feeling a little "blah" about what we saw. We had hoped to see something really pioneering but nothing really grabbed our attention. Nevertheless, the walk along Central Park in such beautiful weather meant that the day hadn't been a total write-off.

Not part of the Biennial, but one of Pierce's favorite pieces when we visit the Whitney.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pierce Preparing a Pipette

Today Pierce and I started working on his science fair project. The goal is ambitious: to replicate a recent experiment that uses natural selection to realize multi-celluarity in yeast. We'll see how far we get. Although the original experiment was relatively simple, the kitchen lab is a far cry from a university lab. Even if we don't succeed, Pierce is enjoying himself. As he worked with the pipette he remarked how scientists get to work with such cool equipment.

Pierce pipetting YPD broth for growing the yeast.
Dry brewer's yeast.

Yeast ready for growing in the culture tubes.
The yeast growing environment is a cardboard box lined with black foam-core and warmed by a light bulb. Our LEGO rocker gently agitates the culture tubes

The box containing the culture tubes. The LEGO Mindstorms controller for the rocker inside and an indoor/outdoor thermometer to monitor the temperature in the box.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

LEGO Mindstorms Test Tube Rocker

Pierce and I built this contraption for periodically agitating test tubes using LEGO Mindstorms NXT. The video shows the two test tubes being rocked every 2 seconds but, for our yeast growing experiment, we're going to use an interval of 30 seconds. According to Pierce, the guy on top thinks he's using a see-saw of doom.