Educational Articles/STEAM activities

BG Academy invites you to read through our latest articles to not only learn more about us, but also educate yourself on some interesting topics for free.

Artificial intelligence

 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the ability of computers/machines to learn from data. Predicted to be one of the world’s most disruptive technologies, AI will transform our world, changing the way we live, work and do business. It will change our health, and our economic, legal, cultural and social environments. By 2025, AI is predicted to touch every industry and create over $50 trillion in economic impact.

Already in our world

AI may sound futuristic but it is already here. We interact with it daily–spam detection, banking and credit card fraud detection, Siri, online shopping , Netflix suggestions. But AI’s potential application is far greater. On the horizon are smart and connected vehicles, smart responsive prosthetics, smart homes, better, more precise diagnostics and the Internet of Things (IoT)–all are powered by AI. The use of AI is rapidly spreading into healthcare, energy, the environment, the digital economy, manufacturing, transportation, finance and more.

Building a car powered by solar energy

How to build solar cells and solar panels

Circuitry

GLOW IN THE DARK WATER 

MATERIALS

  • Tonic water
  • Clear, plastic, disposable cup
  • Medicine dropper
  • Optional: Measuring cup
  • Bleach
  • Ultraviolet “black light”
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Prep Work

  1. When handling the bleach, be sure to read and follow all safety precautions listed on the container. Adult assistance is required when handling bleach. Do not drink the bleach or the tonic water mixed with the bleach!
  2. Avoid looking at the ultraviolet “black light” and shining it on your skin as the light can damage your eyes and skin.

Procedure

  1. Pour about one cup of tonic water into a clear, plastic, disposable cup.
  2. In a darkened room, turn on the ultraviolet black light and shine it on the cup.


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  3. Use the medicine dropper to carefully add two drops of bleach to the tonic water. Shine the black light on the cup of tonic water and carefully mix the bleach in with the tonic water.


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  4. If you do not see a change in the tonic water, try adding and mixing in a few more drops of bleach. What happens?
  5. If you have some left, under the black light you can compare the glow of the tonic water in the original bottle to the tonic water  that had bleach mixed with it.
You can pour the very diluted bleach down a drain. Thoroughly clean anything that came in contact with the bleach.

What Happened?

You should have clearly seen that the tonic water glowed a brilliant, bright blue color when you put it under the ultraviolet black light (before adding bleach). This is because the tonic water contains a chemical called quinine, which can absorb the ultraviolet light from the black light and then release (or emit) blue light. After adding and mixing in a few drops of bleach with the tonic water, however, it should have stopped glowing. What is going on? Bleach is an oxidizing agent. As an oxidizing agent, bleach can disrupt and break certain chemical bonds. These chemical bonds in the quinine are the ones that absorb the ultraviolet light. This means that by adding bleach to the tonic water, the quinine becomes unable to absorb ultraviolet light any more, and so it can no longer emit blue light


FALL STEM ACTIVITIES

Leaf Colors

What pigments make up the beautiful colors associated with many Autumn leaves? With the Find the Hidden Colors of Leaves activity, students use paper chromatography to see the individual color pigments that make up a leaf's color. (Note: for students interested in using paper chromatography for an independent science project, the Candy Chromatography Kit is available and can be used for leafcandyflower, and marker projects.)

Child holding a handful of colorful fall leaves

Make a Weather Station

As temperatures start to drop during fall months, students can make and use their own weather station and DIY weather tools to observe and track weather changes, learn about weather patterns and forecasting, and talk about climate. The Weather Stations and Weather Forecasts: Can You Do It Yourself? lesson incorporates lessons for building simple weather monitoring instruments like an anemometer, a hygrometer, a thermometer, a rain gauge, and a barometer and provides educators with a weather forecasting activity for use with students. (Note: all of these DIY weather tools can be made and used at home, too!)

Weather station with DIY measuring instruments, including hygrometer, thermometer, rain gauge, and anemometer


Explore Veggie Power

With the Potato Battery: How to Turn Produce into Veggie Power! project, students learn about circuits and alternative energy. The project shows potatoes in the circuit, but students can experiment with other fruits and vegetables as they investigate what works, why, and how much power this kind of circuit generates. We've had families experiment with butternut squash and small pumpkins for fall-themed electronics fun. The Veggie Power Battery Kit contains all the specialty parts you'll need to experiment with fruits and vegetables you choose.

Small pumpkin in a circuit to explore veggie power


Branching Structure in Leaves and Trees

With the Designs in Nature: Investigate the Branching Structure of Trees lesson, students use leaf rubbings, drawings, and an activity with parsley to learn about the branching patterns of trees, plants, and leaves. What function do branching structures serve?

Hands doing a leaf rubbing to explore branching structure

BUILD A SOLAR POWER BRISTLEBOT

Assembling Your Robot’s Body

Follow the steps in this slideshow to build your robot’s body. Make sure you read the captions below each image for important notes about each step.

chassis slideshow holder

Assembling Your Robot’s Circuit

If you have never used a breadboard before, you should refer to the Science Buddies resource How to Use a Breadboard before you continue. Build the circuit on your robot’s breadboard by following along with the slideshow. Make sure you read the captions below each image for important notes about each step.

slideshow solar circuit holder

Comparing Solar and Battery Power

  1. Use household materials to set up a “chute” to force your robot to go straight, like the one shown in Figure 2. Make sure you use a smooth, flat surface (the bristles will get stuck on rough surfaces like carpet).
Two rulers on a plastic lid create a path for a bristlebot to travel along
Figure 2. An example course for the robot to drive on. The lid of the plastic container provides a smooth, flat surface, and the rulers act as walls to help the robot go straight.
  1. In your lab notebook, set up a data table like Table 1. You will use the data table to record how long it takes the robot to go from one end of the course to the other in seconds (sec).
    1. The exact weather conditions you are able to test may depend on the time of year and the climate where you live. However, remember that you need to test the project outside, in natural sunlight. The solar panels will not work under artificial light.
    2. The order in which you do the following steps might also depend on the weather. For example, if you build your robot on a cloudy day, you can do the cloudy day trials first, and then the sunny day trials later.
Power SourceWeather ConditionsTrial 1
(sec)
Trial 2
(sec)
Trial 3
(sec)
Average
(sec)
BatteryFull sunlight    
BatteryCloudy    
BatteryNighttime    
Solar panelsFull sunlight    
Solar panelsCloudy    
Solar panelsNighttime    

Table 1. Example data table to record how fast your robot can drive through the course.

  1. Take the robot and your test course outside on a sunny day.
    1. Get your stopwatch ready.
    2. Slide the power switch “down” (toward row 17 of the breadboard) to set the robot to battery power.
    3. Set the robot down on one end of your course. As soon as you do, start the stopwatch.
    4. Watch your robot as it goes down the course. If it gets stuck against one wall, quickly give it a gentle nudge to knock it loose. If your robot consistently turns sharply to one side and always gets stuck as a result, see the Help section for suggestions.
    5. As soon as the robot reaches the other end of the course, stop the stopwatch.
    6. Record the time in your data table in the row for “battery power” and “full sunlight”.
    7. Repeat step 3 two more times and record the data in the appropriate trial columns.
  2. Switch the robot to solar power by sliding the power switch “up” (toward row 1 on the breadboard). Important: Make sure the robot’s solar panels are aimed directly at the sun, as shown in Figure 3. This will ensure that they receive the maximum amount of solar power possible. The wires connected to the solar panels are flexible, so you can bend them slightly to aim the panels toward the sun.
Diagram of a solar panel on a bristlebot being aligned perpendicularly to the Sun's rays
Figure 3. Make sure the solar panels are pointed directly toward the sun.
  1. Repeat step 3 with the robot set to solar power instead of battery power.
  2. Wait for a cloudy day, and repeat steps 3–5.
    1. Optional: If you live in an area with a lot of sunlight during certain times of the year, it might not be feasible for you to wait for a cloudy day. Instead, try doing your test very early in the morning or very late in the evening, when the sun is low in the sky and not as strong as it is during the middle of the day. Adjust the labels of your data table if necessary (for example, from “cloudy” to “early morning”).
    2. Do your best to aim the solar panels directly at the sun through the clouds. You can guess where the sun is based on the time of day (ask an adult if you need help).
    3. Make sure you record all your results in the appropriate row of your data table.
    4. If the robot does not move at all, write “did not move” in the appropriate cell of the data table.
  3. Take your robot and test course outside at night, and repeat steps 3–5. Remember to record all your results in your data table and write “did not move” if the robot does not move at all.
  4. Analyze your data.
    1. For each row of your data table, calculate an average for the three trials. For example, if the trials were 8 s, 10 s, and 12 s, the average would be (8 + 10 + 12) / 3 = 10 s. Do not include “did not move” data points in an average, since they do not have a numerical value. If the robot did not move for all three trials, also write “did not move” for the average.
    2. Make a graph for the battery-powered data with the weather condition on the x (horizontal) axis and the average time to complete the course on the y (vertical) axis.
    3. Make a second bar graph for the solar-powered data with the weather condition on the x (horizontal) axis and the average time to complete the course on the y (vertical) axis. If the robot did not move for all three trials for a certain data set, write “N/A”, which stands for “not applicable,” meaning you could not record any times.
    4. Answer the following questions:
      1. Did weather impact the robot’s speed using solar power? If so, in which weather condition did the robot move fastest? What about slowest?
      2. Did weather impact the robot’s speed using battery power? If so, in which weather condition did the robot move fastest?
      3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of running the robot on solar power compared to with the battery?
    5. Now, it might be tempting to think about which power supply is “better” just based on the results of your experiment, but remember, there are some other factors to consider.
      1. Which power supply is renewable? (Note: You did not use rechargeable batteries in this project, but even if you did, such batteries are not considered renewable because they need electricity from a wall outlet to be charged, and that electricity likely came from a power plant using fossil fuels.)
      2. What challenges would you need to overcome to use different energy sources at night or when it is cloudy? Could you build a robot with rechargeable batteries that can store energy for later use? See the Make It Your Own section for more details.
      3. In this project, you are restricted to using the solar panels and battery pack that comes with the kit, but do you think you could use larger solar panels or battery packs to make the bristlebot run faster? How could this change your results?

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