March 4th and conquer: Camp, that is! Family level member registration for Xplorations Summer Camps opens Monday

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: We’re gearing up for our Xplorations Summer Camps, and online registration for Family level museum members starts Monday, March 4 at 12:01 a.m.

That’s right. It’s like Black Friday, except replace the rock-bottom deals on televisions with crazy-awesome intensive science camps. And it’s on a Monday. So, let’s say, Fuschia Monday — perhaps even with confetti.

Thank you, Summer Campers!For those of you who might be unfamiliar, our week-long educational camps run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (with before and after-camp care also available for an additional fee) and cover science topics ranging from physics to robotics to understanding the universe in interactive classes tailored for kids ages 6 through 12.

Camps do sell out, so we recommend checking out our full catalog in advance here, and having your picks ready once the witching hour rolls around.

Camps are available at both the HMNS Main and HMNS Sugar Land locations throughout the summer; for a full schedule at both locations, click here.

Educator How-To: Build your own personal hovercraft

A hovercraft may look like some high-tech alien vehicle, but the concepts behind its inner workings are really quite simple. Building a hovercraft is an excellent way to investigate the principles of air pressure, friction, lift, thrust, and drag and serves as an excellent motivator for hands-on discovery — for even the most reluctant of learners.

A hovercraft is an ACV (air cushion vehicle) that rides on a pillow of slightly pressurized air. The hovercraft sports a skirt around its perimeter designed to contain air generated by a fan, or in the case of our craft, a repurposed leaf blower.

Build your own hovercraft!The air contained by the skirt in turn creates a cushion that lifts the hovercraft a small distance off the ground. Note: The weight a hovercraft can lift is easily calculated by multiplying the cushion pressure by the area of the craft.

Once lift is achieved, the craft uses directed air to create a forward thrust, allowing the vehicle to be forwardly mobile. A typical hovercraft creates this forward thrust using a propeller or propellers that push air toward the back of the vehicle. Using the principles of lift and thrust, as explained above, the hovercraft operates much like an airplane.

Build your own hovercraft!Now that the craft has forward momentum, it must be steered. Steering is achieved in various ways, depending on vehicle design. A system of rudders placed behind the fan may be used to direct air in different directions, allowing the vehicle the freedom to turn.  This configuration is similar to the mechanism used to steer some boats. Other hovercrafts use subtle shifts in the operator’s body weight to steer, a skill that takes practice to master.

The Museum’s simplified hovercraft was constructed by our own Carolyn Leap using a collection of ideas with a few modifications:

•    Rounded off corners on a square of plywood in order to reduce the weight of the vehicle – a circle of plywood is an even better option for reducing weight.
•    We sought help from the Exhibits Department to cut a hole to accommodate an unusually shaped leaf-blower outlet.
•    We used a plastic tablecloth completely reinforced with duct tape because the plastic seemed inadequate on its own.
•    Reinforced the skirt’s attachment by stapling AND taping around the edges.
•    Added pool noodles (split along one side) instead of pipe insulation as a bumper
•    Added duct tape flaps (sticky sides together) and attached them around the perimeter of the nozzle to create a more effective seal to improve lift.

This hovercraft is used in the Museum’s Xplorations Summer Camp Programs to illustrate various physics concepts. Our hovercraft does not create its own forward thrust and has no steering mechanism, so the craft and rider are guided by the instructor. Take a look at the fun pictures of one of our campers, Noah, as he rides on a pillow of pressurized air!

Build your own hovercraft!For instructions on how to build your own hovercraft, click here.

Sciencebuddies.org and Wired.com have some great additional info. See you same time, same place next month!

Send your girls careening toward a career in hard sciences with HMNS summer camps

Let your young lady soar with HMNS’ Careers in Science program, designed to encourage girls to explore, well, careers in science!

Girl Scouts - Careers In Science
The Careers in Science curriculum offers three classes: Paleontology, Biology and Chemistry.

Careers In Science: Paleontology

At the Paleontology class, participants meet off-site and dig into history to uncover 45 million-year-old fossils from locations on the banks of the Brazos River and at a park teeming with petrified wood. Each participant keeps the fossils she finds!

Girl Scouts - Careers In Science
In Biology class, participants go behind the scenes of the Cockrell Butterfly Center to learn where our butterflies are sourced, how the plants are grown and even how our waterfall works. They’ll also interact with live insects and learn just what makes our “containment room” so important.

Girl Scouts - Careers In Science
Finally, Chemistry class teaches participants about everyday chemical reactions through hands-on experiments, including creating chemical temperature changes and understanding the role chemical reactions play in cooking.

Siblings at least 10 years of age can also participate in class with the purchase of a ticket, and each class ticket allows one adult to accompany each child.

Email scouts@hmns.org or check out the website for more information. You can also sign up for our monthly Scouts newsletter and be the first to learn about upcoming classes!

Soak up the sun – make a sunprint at home!

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This summer, we had a really fun camp for 10-12 year olds called Freeze Frame. Campers learned about a variety of photography processes and how the technology has progressed over the years. One of the things they learned about was Cyanotypes or the blueprint process.

Generally, people will associate the word “blueprint” with architectural plans or layouts, but the term came from the fact that a process similar to cyanotyping was used to make inexpensive copies of plans without a huge investment in technology. 

The Freeze Frame class created cyanotypes by treating both cotton t-shirts and cotton rag paper with cyanotype chemicals, and then using either photographic negatives or opaque objects to block the sun and expose the treated surface to the sunlight.

In this video, Xplorations Summer Camp Educator Andrea Gilbert
walks us through the Freeze Frame camp!

Today, you can easily buy pre-treated paperto create a sunprint of your own, you can find it at your local arts and crafts store (here in Houston you can find it at Texas Art Supply).

By following the simple instructions included with the paper – and being careful to keep your paper in the dark until you’re ready to expose the photosensitive surface with your design on top - you can create all sorts of fun images! For my first example, I used a die-cut paper elephant and some random bits of hardware to create an image. My second example uses tracing paper (this is more like creating a blueprint from a technical drawing on vellum). Any flat, opaque objects will do but these are just what I happened to have lying around!

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After only a minute or so, I could see that the paper that started out blue indoors was quickly fading to white… after about 2 full minutes I flipped all of the hardware off and carried the sheets back indoors. 

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To fix the image, I soaked the exposed paper in water for just a minute, the colors reversed to white images on a blue background, the sunprints lay out flat to dry and voila!   

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Now, head outside and make a sunprint of your own! What natural objects can you find to use for design elements — sticks, leaves, shells? What other flat items can you think of that will block out the sun?

If you like sunprinting, don’t forget to sign up early for Xplorations Summer camp next year and check out Freeze Frame for more adventures in photography!