About Nicole

Nicole has worked for HMNS in some capacity since 1996, whether part-time, full-time or as a volunteer. She taught for seven years in public school, including four years in Fort Bend and a short stint overseas. While she never taught science, she was always the teacher called when someone needed to remove a swarm of bees, catch a snake in the playground, or get the bat off the ceiling of the cafeteria.

Gin and Tonic and Malaria and Fluoresence


At the age of 17, George Washington was diagnosed with malaria. The disease, then referred to as the “ague”, came and went over the years. Although it was known at the time that quinine was a successful treatment, Washington wasn’t prescribe the powder until after the revolutionary War had ended and he was in his 50’s. Once he started on the medication, he took such heavy doses that he suffered a drastic and permanent hearing loss. He was nearly deaf by the end of his second term as president.

Quinine is made from the bark of the Cinchona tree, the national tree of Peru, and was named after the Second Countess of Chinchon by Charles Linnaeus. The Quechua originally discovered the medicinal qualities of the bark, using it to reduce fevers and relax tired muscles. The Spanish, who colonized Peru, recognized the importance of the tree as both a medicine and a way to make money. In the early 1800’s they made export of seeds and saplings illegal, thereby monopolizing the market. About a 100 years later, someone smuggled out some seeds and started a Cinchona plantation in India. Perhaps you’ve heard of Bombay Gin?

Today quinine is still used to prevent and treat malaria, but many people opt out of the pills for a tastier prevention: a gin and tonic. Tonic water contains that very same quinine from the Cinchona tree and so you might see it being sipped where malaria is a common concern.




Besides malaria prevention, quinine has another trick. It fluoresces under ultraviolet light. Things glow because photons are emitted when “excited” (at a higher energy state) electrons drop back to a lower, more stable state. When the UV light shines on the tonic water, the photons given off are of lower energy than the ultraviolet light and correspond to blue light in the visible spectrum.


What to know more about George Washington? Come visit Amending America: The Bill of Rights at HMNS. You can also read about one of his more interesting and peculiar contemporaries here.

Want to know more about things that glow? Read Carolyn’s blog or have a gin and tonic. Meet us at the Okra Charity Saloon on Monday September 26th from 5 to 7pm where we will have some science to share!

Okra and Tomatoes


Okra, photo courtesy of Swallowtail Garden Seeds

As Julia mentioned in our last okra blog, cooking with okra can be a bit slimy. One of the tricks to combat the slime, is to cook it at high heat and really fast. Usually, this means frying okra, but there are other ways to cook it quick! Today’s recipe is okra and tomatoes. The trick, in this recipe, is to sauté the okra in a hot pan for only 3 to 4 minutes. Add some tomatoes and voilà, we have a recipe jam packed with vegetables and a kick of spice!



Photo courtesy of Vodeck

• 3 medium tomatoes, diced
• 1 onion, chopped
• 3 cups Okra, cut into 1 inch pieces
• 2 cloves garlic
• Pinch of cayenne pepper
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Bacon or Andouille sausage (optional)
• Vegetable oil



Photo courtesy of Kim Siever

Putting it all together:
1. In a large skillet, cook the bacon (or andouille sausage) until crispy. Remove bacon from pan and place it on a paper towel lined plate.
2. Pour all but 3 tablespoons of grease into a grease jar. We will be using the remaining grease to cook our onions and garlic.
a. Vegetarian option: use vegetable oil instead of bacon or andouille sausage grease
3. Put the onions and garlic into the pan with the grease. Cook on medium-high heat until the onions are translucent. Add a pinch of cayenne to add some spice.
4. In a separate pan, add vegetable oil and heat on high for about a minute. When pan is hot, add okra pieces in a single layer. Let brown for a minute, and then stir to allow the other side to cook. Sear for about 3 to 4 minutes and remove from heat.
5. Add the okra and tomatoes to the pan with the garlic and the onions. Cook about 4 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Remove from heat, add bacon (or sausage) and enjoy!
If this type of okra isn’t for you, join us at OKRA Charity Saloon this month! The Houston Museum of Natural Science is one of four featured charities. You won’t have to eat okra (unless you want to) and you have the opportunity to vote for HMNS!

HMNS & the OKRA Charity Saloon!


In September, HMNS will be one of four featured charities at OKRA Charity Saloon. To better serve the Houston community, we need your help. Visit OKRA in September to vote for HMNS—if we get the most votes, OKRA will donate their October proceeds to benefit the Museum’s educational programs!




How does it work?
For each drink or food item purchased at OKRA, a ticket is given to the customer, who then selects a charity to vote for. At the end of the month, the charity with the most tickets wins the next month’s proceeds. OKRA donates 100% of their profit. To date, OKRA has donated $760,325 to local non-profits!




Plus–we’ll be filling the saloon with science each Monday-Wednesday in September!
In addition to the refreshing beverages and tasty bar bites, be on the lookout for HMNS science demonstrations, games, crafts, giveaways and discount offers. We’ve got Science Magic Mondays – with a little Cocktail Chemistry, T.rex Tuesdays, Wildlife Wednesdays and some select Thursdays to get to know HMNS staff a little better. We will also keep you posted on the HMNS September line-up at OKRA via social media. Check out the full line up in the calendar below


A Practical Application of the Fundamentals of Physics.


Gravity, the force that attracts a body toward the center of the Earth, seems to be out to get me. I have been described as being “made out of fall down”. This is because I fall down. A lot. I have long legs and big feet and sometimes I don’t pick them up, so I trip. I ride my bike to work a lot and sometimes the potholes get me. Occasionally my adventures in science result in mystery bruises. Bruises and scrapes I can handle, but recently I had the opportunity to test some of Newton’s Laws in other ways.


I, in my little Dodge Caliber, was hit by a GMC pickup truck. After I took a hot minute to get my wits about me, I crawled out and looked at was left of the tail end of my car. My first thought? “Good job, crumple zones. Good job….” This is how we got to this blog entry. It’s been a while since High School Physics, so let’s all get caught up on some basics:

  • Inertia is the tendency of an object to resist any change in its velocity (speed+direction).
  • A fancier way to say that? Newton’s First Law of Motion states that a body at rest remains at rest unless acted upon by an external force and a body in motion continues to move at a constant speed in a straight line unless it is acted upon by an external force.
  • Force = Mass x Acceleration (if Acceleration is the rate of change of the velocity)




In other words, unless some outside force acts on an object it will keep on going or staying, as the case may be. One of those outside forces is friction. Which brings us to inertia. A bigger, heavier object will take longer to get to a high rate of speed, but if the same force is applied, it will also take a longer time to slow down too. So a ping pong ball takes a lot less effort to stop than a freight train, but it also takes a lot less effort to throw a ping pong ball than it does a freight train. And so that brings us to the practical application portion of today’s blog.

Specifically, in the case of my accident, my little car had almost come to a stop when I was hit from behind. Since the truck was so much bigger, the truck had more momentum than my car brakes could handle—so I was pushed forward, even though the truck slowed significantly.

Even though there was a lot of damage done to the rear end of my car, I was still safe. This is because some physicists and engineers (thank you!) have been working to make vehicles safer. To do this, they have to take into account Newton’s Laws of Motion. Some of the safety features cars have these days are seat belts, crumple zones, air bags and specialized tires. Since you can’t instantaneously change the mass of the vehicles in an accident, your best bet is to change the acceleration to reduce the force. The function of the seat belts, crumple zones and air bags is to do just that by slowing things down more gradually. They change the acceleration of the person inside the vehicle by increasing the time it takes for the accident to occur – even if it is just by fractions of seconds.

Seatbelts comprise about 50% of your protection in a car. When a driver stops the car suddenly, the driver tends to lunge forward, because the driver’s body tends to maintain its speed and direction. The seat belt holds the driver and prevents the driver from flying forwards when the car stops. Seat belts help by applying a force that overcomes your inertia as in Newton’s First Law. They also increase the time in the wreck which results in a lesser impact force on you; more time means less acceleration to you! Even when your body comes to a stop, however, your internal organs continue to move, slamming against each other because of the impact. So, that’s fun.

Good tires are also an important safety feature on your car. The friction between the tires and the road determines the maximum acceleration and the minimum stopping distance. If the surface of a tire is rougher, then the friction force is larger. This is super important if you are slamming on your brakes to avoid something or speeding up, also to avoid something.


Prior to 1959, people believed the more rigid the structure, the safer the car. This ended up being deadly because the force from the impact went straight to the passenger. Crumple zones are specially engineered areas on your car that are designed to absorb energy as they are crushed and slow down the rest of the car more gradually. They absorb energy from a collision and therefore reduce the force of a collision on the passengers. They aren’t just spots that are softer or less dense on the car, they are specifically engineered to crush in a relatively gradual and predictable way that absorbs much of the impact energy, keeping it away from the occupants in what is termed a “controlled crush”.

So! Buckle up and be safe, and good job, crumple zones…good job.