I’ve got so many different posts that I want to write… scribbled notes on different science myths and beautiful everyday things, but I have been so very busy. I’m sorry. I will get back to writing detailed posts in a few weeks!

In the meantime, I’d like to recycle a good old post on making your own phonograph. If you’ve got some old records, try this one, it’s pretty astounding when it works!

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phonographI love this little activity… Have an old record but no record player? Here’s how you can listen to it. Take a record and stick a pencil through the hole in the middle so it’s pretty close to the point of the pencil. That’s your turntable. Now take a piece of paper and roll it up into a loose cone and tape it. Flatten the pointy end a little and stick a pin through it. You may want to tape the pin to the end of the paper cone so it’s more stable. Now have a friend turn the record by slowly rotating the pencil. Place the pin, point down, on the groove of the record, and gently hold the cone so the pin stays in the groove of the record. Try to turn it at 33 1/3 times per minute — good luck! Here is a more detailed description of the activity.

Here is my post on my podcast where you can hear how it sounds and how to teach it.

You should hear the music playing, albeit a bit wobbly. The record has a groove in it — one long spiral. The needle vibrates in response to the shape of the groove. But the needle on its own doesn’t vibrate very much air. When it’s attached to the cone, it vibrates the cone, which can then vibrate more air, making the sound louder. The cone also directs the sound, making it easier to hear.

Today’s students often haven’t seen a record before, and so it can be useful to look at it under a microscope or magnifying glass to see the groove. Note that a CD is also sort of “carved” — it has microscopic pits in it. But instead of mechanical vibrations, the grooves in the CD are so tiny that it interacts with light. That’s why records wear out — the needle wears out the grooves. That’s not a problem with CD’s, since it’s just light touching the surface. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter (as much) if you scratch the side of the CD with the rainbows on it — but if you scratch the metal coating on the other side, the light won’t reflect from it correctly and you’ll spoil the CD.

Wikipedia has more information on phonographs, and so does this site from Arbor Scientific.

If you’re interested in making your own working phonograph (not just the pin and paper method) to actually record your voice using a plastic cup (replacing the old fashioned wax cylinder), check out this kit from Make Magazine. I hear they don’t carry the kit anymore, but someone Googled and found it by a company in Japan.

Here’s a video of it in action and here’s what it sounds like.

A teacher on a teacher listserv I’m on writes:

In my collection of Edison Phonographs I have many that will allow for purely mechanical reproduction of sound. I have an Edison tinfoil phonograph that records on tinfoil (duh) and numerous machines that record on wax cylinders. First the wax cylinder is shaved to a clean surface then a cutter head consisting of a diaphragm with a sapphire cutting stylus is lowered onto the record surface. As the cylinder turns, wax is cut by the stylus where the depth of the cut represents the wave pushing/pulling on the diaphragm. It is called the “hill and dale” or vertical cut type of recording.

The Gakken phonograph made in Japan uses a side by side motion or lateral recording. This is what the common 78 RPM records used from 1896 up through the mid-1950s. The toy phonograph does work but results vary depending on numerous factors. One is the temperature of the plastic cup used for the recording. I have found that a hair dryer warming the cup helps but one must be careful not to melt anything. The Gakken machine appears on eBay regularly under the search Edison Phonograph but shipping is as expensive as the machine is because it is air mailed from Japan. Maker Shed in the US carries it as well with some savings on postage but at a higher price.

tt_icon_170Despite my better judgment, I invite TI staff educator Eric Muller to do one more set of activities on my Teaching Tips podcast —several things you can do with soda straws.  Listen to the episode – The Last Straw.


Holding Charge activity (PDF)
More of Eric Muller’s activities

Needing to teach Newton’s Laws?  Don Rathjen, staff educator at the Exploratorium, has been teaching mechanics to students for over 20 years.  This one’s an old favorite — a noisy activity with wood flying everywhere.  You can listen to Don demonstrate how to teach the activity (and geekgirl has some fun with it too) on my Science Teaching Tips podcast.

Here’s a PDF of the activity, and the related Old Tablecloth Trick.

From the activity writeup:

The key concept here is inertia, or resistance to change in motion.  Mass is a measure
of inertia, as shown in Newton’s Second Law, F=ma; for a given force, the larger the
mass, the smaller the acceleration, or change in motion. The “whack” force applied to
the bottom block is far larger than the opposing friction forces from the table and
the remaining block stack, so the bottom cassette undergoes a large acceleration.
Because of the frictional force between the bottom block and block stack
above it, the stack accelerates as well; but the force is small and only occurs for a
very short period of time, and therefore doesn’t give the relatively massive stack much
acceleration before the bottom block is gone. So the stack just drops. Notice as the
blocks are knocked from the stack, the top stack moves farther. Since the stack has
less mass, it has less inertia.

More of Don’s activities here.

A fabulous science activity from Sebastien Martin over at the Exploratorium, via teacher Bree Barnett — visualizing kinetics with LED lights. See detailed instructions and more pictures over at that blog post.

A teacher asked for a good experiment to show 8th graders that gas has mass.  “We have used balloons in the past,” she says, “but some of the kids still don’t make the connection.”

Paul Doherty replied:

I like to get a big weather balloon from a surplus store , inflate it until it is 1 meter in diameter or a little more and then a second balloon that is deflated.

Have a kid stand and throw the empty balloon at the back of their head…they feel almost no force.

Then throw the full one. It packs a noticeable punch due to the mass of moving air. the mass approaches a kilogram.

Of course you cannot weigh it using a scale due to buoyancy. You can only feel the mass by accelerating it or decelerating it.

And Eric Muller added:

Get some dry ice. It is solid Carbon Dioxide and it has noticeable mass. Lots of stores around the bay area sell dry ice. Many Safeways, Albertsons, bait shops, liquor stores, ice distributors and welding supply companies carry dry ice.

Weigh (or Mass) a chunk of dry ice. Put the chunk in a plastic bag and tie it off. It will sublimate and turn into a gas. The bag will expand noticeable. A solid, 44gram chunk of dry ice (that’s the size of a couple of fingers) will expand to around 22.4 liters of gas.

Gas has mass!

I posted a new podcast – “Ooh you make my motor run” on my Science Teaching Tips podcast.  One of the Exploratorium staff educators, Modesto Tamez, tells how he gets students exploring electromagnets, a great preparation for making an electric motor.

Here’s the Stripped Down Motor activity: www.exploratorium.edu/snacks/stripped_down_motor.html

TI staff educator Eric Muller explains how to make your own record player!