Yu-An Chen


This conversation is closed.

Why don't we have more "Kitchen" scientists?

When people hear the word "Science", they often think of fancy labs with high technology equipment, and this is not too far off-- In my Bioelectricity class, for example, we learned about patch clamp experiments, which use tiny electrical recorders called micropipettes to record electrical currents from single ion channels in cells, and the voltage clamp experiments performed by Hodgkin and Huxley, in which they managed to thread wires through a single axon! These experiments, and a lot of other important experiments outside this field, require a lot of expensive machinery, chemicals and facilities. But does science always have to be a luxury? For example, instead of using expensive fish-eye lens for photography experiment, we could simply buy a much cheaper door viewer to get the same barrel distortion effect. Or you can go online and buy kits to record from brains, or if you live in New York City, you can join the community laboratory called GenSpace, take workshops, trainings, or can work on our own projects!

How do you think we can help science become more accessible to everyone? The more people, both amateur and professional, who contribute to science, the more ideas will be created!

Closing Statement from Yu-An Chen

Thank you all for the comments and suggestions. I got to know a lot of new resources by going through the comments. It seems like most people will be glad to see more kitchen scientists. We can start with turning off TV and explore more about the world. Science is all around us, if one has the heart, anyone can become a kitchen scientist.

  • Feb 10 2012: Many of the greatest scientific minds have done their most prolific work from beyond the bounds of 'the institution.' Perhaps this in vacuo approach was key to their success. Rewind to 1975, computer science was largely limited to well endowed research institutions. That is, until Bill Gates developed software in his dorm room that changed the way computer science is done. In 1856 a little known Austrian Monk, Gregor Mendel, unlocked the secrets of modern genetics…at a monastery with a pea garden. And then there was that patent clerk who couldn't get a job at a university…until he revolutionized our knowledge of space and time.

    Indeed, the very notion that great science must be both expensive and selective, as far as who gets to do the science or receives the funding, is one that comes only from within the institutions that create those limits. It is far more likely, however, that someone will be able to 'think outside of the box' if they are actually outside of the box.

    Well funded labs think: If I have the funds to spend on my experiments, then the most expensive experiments will get me the best data or highest impact publication, therefore, I must use the "top of the line" equipment and reagents. This is flawed thinking because often "top of the line" really does not yield the most elegant or revolutionary results, just the most expensive. Someone without institution funds will be more creative in re-engineering equipment (Backyard Brains founders come to mind) and reagents to meet their specific needs, or think very deeply about the best questions to ask, and the optimal experiment that can answer that question. The end result: more money does not equal better science, actually, it may even inhibit the scientific creative spirit. But, I'm definitely happy to purchase some $800 digital pipets from ebay for $50 because the scientists at Pfizer couldn't figure out how to replace the batteries.
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      Feb 11 2012: Very, very insightful....you have lots of common sense...I enjoyed reading your comment.
  • Feb 10 2012: I'm not sure if there are less "kitchen scientists" around than before. I think that a major hurdle to kitchen scientists, then and now,is that having an adequate space to carry out experiments and especially to collaborate in. There is a definite need in having more open biotech labs, where people can carry out their experiments in a non-traditional setting or having parents participating with their kids or students with teachers. As a result, myself and my colleagues decided to found Genspace, a "community biotech laboratory". The equipment can be shared among many members thereby offsetting a lot of the costs. There are a lot of novel experiments that can be carried out relatively inexpensively, if you just factor in the costs of the consumable reagents and materials. But having the space to do the work is a problem. That, coupled with the the costs for some of the few "major" items, like centrifuges, incubator/shakers, PCR machines are still a bit pricey for most people.This despite some occasional great deals on Ebay.
    Interestingly, having access to adequate space to even do groundbreaking research, even for established scientists, has always been a major problem. You would think that someone with academic affiliations or working in a well funded biotech company wouldn't have these problems, but that isn't the case. Especially if you have a new direction or idea that you want to pursue.
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    Feb 9 2012: Hi Yu-An - You are asking all the right questions! The answer, I feel, is that science doesn’t need to be expensive, and that all the tools to “democratize” science are out there. You just have to find clever uses of inexpensive things to replace the precise, expensive equipment used in major universities and research centers (your doorviewer idea is brilliant). As you mentioned, there is a growing movement of DIY biologists that are sharing tips like these all the time. As the community grows, I think the number of tools available will grow as well. And soon you will be able to do many more types of experiments in your own home or classroom.

    I helped start Backyard Brains with my labmate Tim while at the University. When we first started, the only way to record the “spikes” of brains was to purchase expensive lab equipment costing $10,000-$40,000. Now you can do the same for less than $50 using the same ideas you mentioned, keeping things cheap and easy (sewing needles for electrodes, for example).

    Keep hacking... and keep sharing your hacks!
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      Feb 13 2012: Hi, Gregory, thank you very much for your sharing of another way to utilize surrounding products to replace expensive equipment for science experiment. I think it is very important for people to realize that science is everywhere, not only in the labs with fancy equipment. A lot of times, the seemly high tech instrument is basically following some simply rules of science. As one become more familiar with the subject, one can discover more and more about it in everyday life.
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      Feb 14 2012: Like many have mentioned, I do think it is critical to foster a person’s curiosity from the time they are very young. It is so interesting to read all the little experiments that can be done in the classroom with simple everyday materials, as well as remembering those that I was exposed to. An engineering friend of mine actually works part-time as a pre-K science teacher. He was very creative and bought a robotics kit for his weekly class. Over several weeks, he had the children assemble a robot and went through each sensor so that once the programming was done (which the kids participated in), they all had also learned about their own senses and how they could be applied to technology.

      Although it is optimistic and an end-goal to foster a society filled with people who have the curiosity to ask questions and innovate, the fact also is that science is a profession. A researcher should hopefully be passionate about their work, but they do need that large company or organization funding their next paycheck. In quite a few fields, the science has reached a point where the expensive technology is a must, simply because a new level of discovery has been reached. For example, in a class one can learn to build a simple transistor, but when moving toward innovation in that particular field, the focus suddenly shifts toward the nanoscale (which necessitates advanced pieces of equipment).
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      Feb 14 2012: Hey Gregory,
      What you say is very true. Especially in the biological sciences the expense of the equipment can be extremely prohibitive. However, beyond just inexpensive alternatives, we can find more creative uses for some of the technologies we already carry in our pockets. Smartphones and their respective applications could facilitate a new wave of kitchen science. While reading your comment I thought about the possibility of using a phone as a spectrophotometer, so I googled it and low and behold someone already figured out how to do it. http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/10/in-high-school-chem-labs-every-camera-phone-can-be-a-spectrometer/
      I'm sure more creative ways to use smartphones can be found or created for the next generation of smartphones to bring as many experimental instruments as possible to the individual scientist's fingertips.
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    Feb 9 2012: It seems people in general have a fear of science, or are bored by it...I do not know why. It is human nature to be curious about life around us. But because we live in such a materialistic world, technology is about the only science people are interested in.

    Maybe raffling off an ipod at science lab events would attract a crowd???

    A few years back our city library got a grant to have two science teachers come every Saturday and perform experiments. I remember they tackled force and motion and simple machines....both extremely practical science topics and very hands on. We loved it!!!

    Regardless of how much promotion was done, noone, except for a handful of parents with their kids, showed up to the wonderful 1/2 day workshops.

    It would be really neat if South Florida had a community laboratory. What fun!!!

    I do kitchen science with my kids. Here's a simple experiment to show how water molecules bond.

    Take a penny, a dropper, and a glass of water. Ask the child, or adult to guess (hypothesis) how many drops will it take for the water to start to roll of the top of the penny. Record the hypothesis. Then proceed to drop water carefully on the penny....the look of surprise on the participants faces is always the same....shock!!!

    Great topic of conversation Yu-An
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      Feb 9 2012: Hi Mary!
      I agree that many people are either 'afraid' or 'bored' with science - as a former science teacher, engaging my students was my biggest hurdle in the classroom. When I was in elementary school, we learned mostly through the textbook or the teacher lecturing to us; hands on engaging learning was a luxury. In college, we were instructed to teach by inquiry in project-based education. However, as teachers in the classroom, there were so many standards to reach and other smaller intangibles that made inquiry based learning difficult to master.

      I believe the best way to combat this fear is to engage kids when they are young - by instilling the 'Why' bug early. Then they are more likely to ask questions and discover answers when they are older.

      A wonderful simple 'kitchen' experiment to open conversation with young children about electricity requires a lemon, a clean dime and a clean penny. Roll the lemon on the counter to release some of the juice. Make 2 small incisions in the rind about 1/2 inch apart. Insert the coins in each incision. Touch the two coins to your tongue (why these coins should be clean) and describe your observations.
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        Feb 9 2012: Hie Dionne!

        It takes alot of devotion to do at least one science experiment per week with students. Kitchen science done using ideas found on the web is a great solution to this challenge. I used to have big discussions with my administrator about science....you simply cannot be an effective teacher teaching science out of a textbook alone. You need to have time to conduct experiments and get your hands dirty..... Science is supposed to be hands-on.

        You said: "the best way to combat this fear is to engage kids when they are young - by instilling the 'Why' bug early"

        I will reply, that you do not need to instill the 'Why' bug early......if you are a parent, you know that children are born with the 'why' bug......why is the sky blue?, why do you have to cut my nails? why can't I look at the sun?.....and so on.

        It is maintaining the bug active that is the SECRET......many parents give the bug anti-biotics, and squash it in it's infancy. They don't want to be bothered with annoying questions.........well, guess what? Those annoying questions are what make children love inquiry and later love school, and science.

        We discussed the topic recently on TED: Is there such thing as a stupid question?.....coming out of children's mouths, all question deserve an answer.

        I am sure that I am preaching to the choir here, but I just wanted to expand on your comment.

        BTW.....I did your experiment......however, nothing happened. Is it because I used a green lime instead of a lemon???? I'm curious?

        My kids think I'm crazy....but I don't think so. Let me know, and thanks for the reply.
        I hope I didn't ramble. I enjoy talking about education, children, science...in no particular order.
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          Feb 9 2012: Hello Mary,
          If only I had parents like you when I was teaching! I agree - it is not only the role of the educator, but the parents and community to instill the most in every child. It's a shame what happens to children when there is a piece of the support triangle missing.

          Regarding the experiment - I never tried it with a lime. There is a pH difference between lemons and limes (the pH scale being logarithmic, it's more like a factor of 10). Additionally, the metal alloys in coins are somewhat variable depending on the year they were minted. Perhaps using zinc and copper plates or household hardware would be better electrodes. Here's a link that may provide additional supplementary information.


          Good luck! (and keep me posted - I'll see what if I can't scrounge up some more labs)
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      Feb 10 2012: Mary, I don't think it is so much a fear of science, as it is a response to what science is in their schools ... a body of facts you must memorize so you can pass the standardized tests you'll be subjected to several time throughout your education. It is mostly taught with no relevance to THEIR lives ...
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        Feb 11 2012: Dennis, yes......facts to memorize so you can pass a test is right.

        I remember my 10th grade chemistry teacher....she was actually the PE teacher, and taught Chemistry as well......or I should say, she lectured out of the textbook.

        I always hated science....b o r i n g.....until I started my career as an educator. When I realized that my students where bored with the way I was teaching....same as I was taught, I had to change my routine. Doing labs once a week and lots of discussions back and forth on science topics made this subject the most enjoyable of the week.......next to Math.....which I also enjoy teaching.

        And anytime you include edibles in science.....well, let's just say that the kids go wild.

        There is a book called "Who Sank the Boat". It's a children's book, and it's great for opening a lab on surface tension and what kinds of boat shapes hold the most weight. After I read the book to the kids, I would pass out paper and have them make paper boats...any shape....they could use tape to put it together....then, each child would put their boat in a tub of water and slowly put pennies one by one on the boats....until the boat sank. Afterwards we would discuss which shape boat held the most pennies. Their estimates of the # of pennies their boats would hold are always way off.....that's half the fun....oh the discovery!!!!

        Great class lab.....we had tons of fun doing it.
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      Feb 14 2012: I think you're right that a lot of the problem is lack of interest on the part of students and creativity on the part of teachers, but I think another cause of apathy when it comes to science in the educational system is that there is a stigma that you have to be "smart" to go into the sciences. I find that kids are convinced at a young age that they aren't cut out for science or math, even if they find it interesting, and end up completely disregarding it as a possibility. And the problem doesn't end there. In undergraduate school, science students are told that if they want to pursue research, they have to go to graduate school and get a PhD.
      We end up putting too much stock in credentials and forget that anybody can contribute to the scientific community, no matter their background.
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        Feb 14 2012: Most definitely, I agree with you.

        There is a wonderful scholastics biography set for young people that I have always used in my second grade classes. I use them exclusively to show children that all that one needs to be a scientist, inventor, or just someone who makes a difference in the world, is one's imagination.

        Two of my favorites are: The Story of George Washington Carver ISBN 0-590-42660-5
        and Louis Braille The Boy Who Invented Books for the Blind ISBN 0-590-44350-X

        These two books have sparked student's love of learning, discovering and inventing......The Louis Braille book even comes with the Braille alphabet on the back.

        How sad that science is reduced to PHD's and degrees and the like...hopefully, individuals whose parents instill in them a love of discovery, or who are exposed to teachers who are passionate about science, will continue to make scientific discoveries in their kitchens, garages, and backyards.

        Thanks for your reply and insights Nicolette.
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    Feb 13 2012: Space exploration offers a huge number of ways for the public to participate in science and scientific exploration, via their computer and an internet connection. Every photo from every NASA mission since the Mariners flew past Mars is available for download from NASA websites, and by browsing through them you can feel like you're riding along with the robotic spacecraft, exploring other worlds. The Opportunity Mars rover and Cassini Saturn orbiter actually post all photos on the Web as soon as they come to Earth -- you can go see what those spacecraft are exploring right now, and you could actually see the photos before the science teams do! Nowadays, spacecraft return so much data to Earth that if you pick a photo from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter or Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, odds are good you'll be looking at data that only one or two other people have ever examined. You can actively contribute to space science research through citizen science projects like those at zooniverse.org, by mapping & classifying lunar craters, hunting in telescope photos for faint Kuiper belt objects, and lots of other fun stuff. This isn't playing at doing science -- it's actually being a scientist, and both kids and adults can participate.
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      Feb 14 2012: Incredible...I had no idea....I can just imagine what it must look like up on a smart board in a classroom!!

      Thank you Emily
  • Feb 10 2012: And just to share a couple more stories about the need for a proper space to do science, it's not just limited to amateurs. I just finished reading a biography on the two time Nobel prize winner Dr. Marie Curie. Despite already being a published scientist, her later groundbreaking experiments almost didn't happen simply due to a lack of space. This even though only inexpensive and rudimentary equipment was required. From the bio written by her daughter Eve in 1937: " But at least could there not be found, in the numerous buildings attached to the Sorbonne, some kind of suitable workroom to lend to the Curie couple? Apparently not."
    And also for Dr. Bruce Merrifield, the Rockefeller Institute chemist who had to build a lab in his basement in order to build his revolutionary and later Nobel prize winning solid state peptide synthesizer.
    Ah, bureaucracy, just the sort of situations we set out to avoid at Genspace so we could all just get down to the science! Anyway, if you can tell, I'm pretty passionate about having as much open access to science and technology as possible! And, in my opinion, having the right environment is key to accomplishing this.
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    Feb 10 2012: The idea of a community lab sounds amazing! It's clear to see that pro bono collaboration on giant projects is possible with mere incentives such as learning, creating and teaching being the only motivators. Online resources continue to grow and I myself have gotten into electronics - a field I never thought I would touch.

    For me what was lacking in school was defined relevance. "I like art and writing, I don't need to know geometry." Here I am ten years later building 3D models where graphing, angles, multiplier modifiers and polygonal topology are hugely relevant to what I'm doing. I've often thought I would be a better artist if I was better at math.

    Vihart on Youtube and Khan Academy have really helped me out lately in learning concepts and seeing math "visually" versus simply numbers on a piece of paper. These sorts of on the fly resources weren't available when I was in school. I hope kids are capitalizing on them now; I know I sure am.

    Hobbyist science is growing exponentially and I think the only thing really lacking is access to equipment and materials. Imagine what could be accomplished if independent students had even a quarter of the equipment of a traditional University?

    Thanks for posting about other resources everyone! I know what I'm doing this week. :)
  • Feb 9 2012: Unfortunately, it seems to me that most people nowadays are too busy to take the time for things like this. Or perhaps it's a combination of busy and lazy! The ones who are most interested are children. If kids don't spend all their time watching television and playing computer games, then they ask a surprising number of questions, because they are curious about their world. Instead of just answering their questions verbally, do kitchen science in order to find the answer. When I homeschooled my kids, we did this whenever possible, and it was loads of fun for all of us, and I believe I learned at least as much as they did. We did the same kind of things when they attended school, but there was, of course, less time for it.
    One thing that would help would be more books about how to do this kind of stuff. Hint, hint!
    Limit TV & computer time, answer questions with experiments instead of words when you can, and write books. That's my suggestion.
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      Feb 9 2012: Hey jude,

      i think its a great idea to answer questions more in depth by actually investigating-- it seems like this is the most powerful way of really learning! You know how there are always those kids who seem to have a really good intuition for physics, or probability, or logic? I think those were the kids who probably got someone to explain something to them when they were younger, helping root ideas into their minds which would be helpful later on. The explanation doesn't even need to be an answer-- sometimes just observing carefully is enough to spark the wheels turning in your brain to try and figure out, say, why a swing works.
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        Feb 12 2012: Check this article out: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120124113051.htm where a research claims that "Babies Are Born With 'Intuitive Physics' Knowledge". It reminds me of a Buddhist concept that humans are born with an innate sense of knowledge which gets lost as we are exposed to un-truths. We spend the rest of our lives trying to gain this knowledge back by trying to attain 'enlightenment'.
        What I think probably happens is that parents and/or the education system isn't nurturing these intuitive assumptions. Instead, kids are always told to stop being nosy or noisy, and that causes them to shy away developing these intuition into real knowledge; then they're thrown into an unnatural learning environment, causing them to learn "the right way".
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          Feb 12 2012: It is true.Children's' "urge to explore" are often deterred by the society by telling them it is useless, waste of time or dangerous. The constant suppression eventually cause the children to lose their natural curiosity about the surroundings. I think there is another reason for killing the "urge to explore": the easy access to the internet and TV entertainment. Human tend to be on the lazy side. And usually people would choose to sit in front of the TV instead of doing kitchen science.
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          Feb 14 2012: I think the biggest factor in why we don’t have more “kitchen scientists” comes from our inability to stimulate and foster curiosity in children. I feel like at a young age everyone has at least a smidgen of scientific inquiry which needs to be exercised in order to be maintained. Whether it’s one of those home science kits, mixing baking soda and vinegar, or rubbing a balloon against his/her head, every young kid had his/her favorite experiment. So the real question here is what happens between that seemingly innate stage of scientific inquiry and the later life stages, where only a small percentage of adults decide to uphold this thirst for scientific knowledge? A major factor here could be the finances. A rather simple experiment can prove to be rather costly. But is seems as if it is more than that. It seems as if the willingness to immerse oneself in scientific knowledge is stopped before thinking about the cost, and that people aren’t even willing to brainstorm ideas. The most important thing here is that people have to be interested in the material themselves. Students can’t feel like they are being forced to learn about the world around them, they have to want to learn and inspire themselves. Spreading science has to be a collective effort, and has to start at a young age in order to provide a solid foundation to build on in the future.
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      Feb 14 2012: Hi Jude,

      You're right, laziness does play a big role in why we might not have the same number of "kitchen scientists" However, at the same time, we also happen to live in world filled with "glitz and glam." I feel that the idea of a scientist still evokes the image of nerd in a white coat. Granted, sites like TED have slowly started to break that down, but that image is still there. I think the key to inspiring kitchen scientists is to breed creativity. It should be creativity that is celebrated and encouraged. At a young age, children should be given the ability to expand their minds and pursue questions that they may have. It is important to stimulate their feel for questioning and creativity. Whether or not that can be done in such a mind numbingly digital age remains to be seen.
  • Feb 10 2012: I firmly believe that in the next decade we will see an emergence of truly great scientific discovery coming from unknown people and places, particularly in the biosciences. Community based citizen science lab spaces such as BioCurious, or GenSpace are bringing basic tools to anyone with the desire to use them. The internet is making collaboration possible like never before. And, the archaic formulas for choosing the "best" scientists to fund with large institution coffers have yet to yield really innovative approaches to "meet unmet needs" or treat diseases like cancers, alzheimer's, or cardiovascular disease, for which those billions of dollars were intended.

    Science has always been about discovering the unexpected. Kitchen scientists, DIY biologists, citizen scientists ARE the unexpected. I am very excited to find out what paradigm shifting discoveries may be fermenting in someones kitchen sink or glowing in their garage laser microscope. Based on the history of science, I would be willing to bet that those breakthrough treatments are more likely to come from such a lab than a large biotech or endowed academic lab.
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      Feb 11 2012: So optimistic....let's hope so!!!
  • Feb 10 2012: Actually, I think that we are already into a resurgence of science curiosity, as can be seen from the exploding grown of hacker/makerspaces. I think that what is needed is to reach parents of preschool children, and get them to perform the simplest, least expensive experiments (like germinating bean/pea seeds, or a lemon shocker) to encourage the growth of their kid's brains, so that they will be able to get better jobs and be more successful when they are grown. (Yes, I know, but for some people, the might dollar is the only thing that will get their attention.)
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      Feb 11 2012: The internet has made this so easy.....alot of homeschooling moms do this.....did you know that if you wet a kichen paper towel and stick it in a ziplock back with a couple of beans you will see the beans germinate in a couple of days.....you can also do it with beans in an old kitchen sponge that is kept wet......

      So simple.

      [Edited misspellings]
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    Feb 15 2012: Chemistry sets weren't as exciting when I was a kid as they were when my father was a kid. I looked at some of the chemistry sets and detective kits available today; these are mostly a joke. I will need to shop around if I want to purchase these items. Making these items more available, at varying proficiency levels, and at the lowest possible prices would go a long way to making children interested in science. This would flow, it would seem naturally, to kitchen science.

    Mister Wizard disappeared and we had Bill Nye the Science Guy. I preferred Mister Wizard; he made me curious. We could bring shows like that back. We could make the discovery channel like it used to be rather than this nonsense that changes the camera's focus, picture, and content every 5-9 seconds like I'm undergoing the Ludovico treatment from Clockwork Orange sans the good music.

    I know these small changes would not solve all our problems, but I am not here to post about pennies from heaven. These are simple things we can do now that will make the situation better. We need to encourage exploration and scientific breakthroughs because these are the only advances that seem to make human life better. We would also do well to see what we can do for life, generally -- in my opinion, but that is another post.
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    Feb 14 2012: If you haven't seen Mike deGruy's talk...."Hooked on an Octapus" you are missing something beautiful.

    We learn first hand what happens when a small child is fascinated with nature and ocean life.

    Here is the link:


    Yu-An, anyway to add Mike's talk to your "related talks" so that this conversation can be seen by those who watch the Mike DeGruy talk....and maybe contribute more to your conversation.....also can you extend your conversation time??

    Just a thought. Be Well.
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      Feb 11 2012: YES!!!!
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    Feb 11 2012: I think that if schools could get some parents to commit to a monthly science workshop/hands-on lab....then maybe these same parents can go out in the community and spark other parent's interest, and so on. Most schools are not used in the evening.....why not use the school sites for these labs.....most high schools have the labs already.

    This takes planning, and it has to be organized by outgoing personality types who really enjoy science. But I think it could work.

    I think some have made a valid point in saying that technology has affected kids, and adults view of kitchen science....this is very sad.

    However, I still know dedicated science teachers who are trying their best to keep science alive and well....so let's be optimistic.

    I hope to see a GenSpace down in our neck of the woods soon!!!!
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      Feb 13 2012: Hey Mary

      There is an organization that accomplishes your hopes called Iridescent Learning. Its vision is “to use science, technology and engineering to develop persistent curiosity and to show that knowledge is empowering.” Iridescent has a Family Science Program in which children from the same school along with their parents and siblings go to Iridescent science studios for science lessons and experiments one night a week for 4 weeks. These 4 lessons are part of a cohesive unit that demonstrates the important principles of a science application like the physics behind sailing. Each lesson has demo and design portions to concretely demonstrate the principles. These lessons are taught by engineers and engineering students through an Engineers as Teachers program. I had the pleasure of participating in Iridescent’s Engineers as Teachers program affiliated with my college. Not only are the children learning and hopefully becoming more curious and interested in science, but the engineering student-teachers renew their interest in science and see how their knowledge and expertise can benefit children that could potentially follow in their footsteps.
      Iridescent has locations in California and New York. Hopefully, it will expand to many other states and other universities.

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        Feb 14 2012: Oh my goodness Joanna......what a great site!!!

        I watched the videos of interviews with the engineering students and how they are trained to go into the upper elemetary grades and middle schools to show kids complex science in simple ways.

        How much fun was being had by all....kids, parents and engineering students!!!

        It is a win win win win situation. The young students win because they are able to have positive role models teach them that science is fun......the teachers in the schools win because they can imitate the methods later on with other students.....the university students win because they learn communication and leadership skills......and the parents and society as a whole wins because we will continue to foster a love of science in our future generations.

        THANK YOU seems too simple of an expression, but really thank you for sharing Joanna.

        It would be great if the University of Miami did something like this here in South Florida. Maybe I will email somebody over there and send them this link. HMM

        Thank you. Mary
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      Feb 14 2012: Mary,

      I had a lot of experience in labs from a young age until I graduated from High School. However, I don't believe that lab experience alone is what can help young students more interested, even if parents were to get involved. Many of the experiments for young children involves following a specific procedure. There was no thought involved, and that wasn't enjoyable for me.

      I currently am in college, and have lab experience that has finally made me interested. In my Organic Chemistry lab course, we are required to find unknown compounds using any methods we have learned. This lets us have fun trying different things on our own, without following an exact procedure made by someone else. We have the freedom to choose how we want to approach the problem, rather than having the answer handed to us.

      This idea can be used for young children with moderation, making sure safe procedures are used with a high level of supervision. Children would be able to think more, and be extremely satisfied if they were to complete a challenge in the lab using their own methods. They can do their own research to see how to approach the lab, as long as they receive approval from the teacher.

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        Feb 14 2012: This is a good way for college students. It would require excellent training in science for the elementary teacher.

        I have used the "do your own method"...for example, with the post I wrote about the making of boats.....and it is nice to see the different approaches students take.

        Control is a big issue in elementary, as kids are very immature and some activities can get out of hand, plus, there is hardly any background knowledge on subjects so it is a bit of a challenge.

        It would be interesting to use your university's approach every once in a while.

        Thank you for sharing your experience.

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      Feb 15 2012: Hello Mary i received a notification about you last comment, but i can not see it. So is there any way you could re-post it?
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        Feb 15 2012: Yes, thank you Mr. Unuoha.

        Thank you for your reply.
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    Feb 11 2012: Have you heard of molecular gastronomy?

    I think you might get your wish.

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      Feb 11 2012: There is a TED talk with Mr Moto...did you know this??
  • Feb 11 2012: I think this has already been mentioned a couple times; but it seems like in previous times there was a lot of "kitchen science" going on simply because it was interesting and there wasn't anything else to do. Nowadays people are constantly bombarded by distractions like video games, social networking, media being shoved in their face, ever-increasing work hours (look at how many hours on average people work a week now compared to a century ago) etc.. It now takes a real dedicated effort to be able to get yourself away from all that even if you're really passionate about it. Where back in "the day" (pick an era) people would go and tinker with machines and rockets and crazy stuff because it was pretty much the only way to learn (not to mention blowing stuff up is a fun way to pass the time), it's easier today to just read something on arstechnica about a big lab doing something neat to scratch that curious itch.

    That and the whole "economic turmoil" thing makes it difficult to get things done even when you do have the drive...I can think of tons of projects I'd love to work on if only I didn't have to work on not starving.
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      Feb 11 2012: Very true....still, some of us encourage our little ones to tinker away in grandpas tool box of goodies hoping to spark interest in..........anything!!!
      • Feb 14 2012: I definitely think the primary source of a person’s scientific interest lies in their childhood. An article I found (http://www.ijese.com/IJESE_v5n1_Bulunuz.pdf) notes that famous scientists like Einstein and Feynman had “rich and playful childhood experiences with science” that most likely influenced their careers and interest when they got older. I know someone who was one of those kids who was glued to the t.v. and played endless hours of video games. Perhaps this is why he is not passionate about science and actively doing experiments.
        I believe the main component to creating “kitchen” scientists is the impression of strong memories that scientific experiments and learning from them are fun and engaging. These memories need to be strong enough trigger self-motivation. Perhaps even teens and adults can be converted to “kitchen” scientists if they experience something cool and impactful enough.
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          Feb 14 2012: ".......the findings of the study suggest the importance of elementary school science as well as informal science experiences to engender an interest in science."

          How true Andrew...this quote from your mentioned article is pretty much what all of us commenting on this topic have found.

          I will add to your wonderful comment that life, life that is lived surrounded by nature, provides the best lab in the world.

          Sitting in an apartment, on the 12th floor of a high rise, watching tv while playing on a DS and listening to music on an i-pod and texting your friends, will not the next scientist make.
          Of course, I could be wrong.....but I don't think so.

          That is why I posted my last comment a few minutes ago linking the Mike DeGruy talk on "Hooked by an Octopus"....Mike starts the talk explaining how, at the age of five, growing up in Mobile, Alabama was all the incentive he needed to become a marine zoologist.

          Thank you Andrew for the link and the wonderful thoughts. Are you studying science???

          And please, if you get the chance, visit the site JoAnne Cruz linked me to below in her comment.......it shows how young engineer students are making a difference right now through this great program out in California. You will probably enjoy the great videos showing all that goes on out there. It is a must see!!!

          Be Well, Mary
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          Feb 14 2012: How true, Andrew.

          I think one thing that prevents many would-be tinkerers from engaging in kitchen science is that a lot of technology seems to have reached a level of abstraction such that it is impossible for they layman to understand what is going on under the hood. For example, 20 years ago you could fix your own car in your garage. Now, your car has a computer which you need fancy equipment just access. Before, you could fix your transistor radio if you knew anything about circuits and had some time on your hands. Now, you break open the outer case and see an embedded computer.

          Unfortunately, it seems that the popular types of "kitchen science" which have survived are now trite: demonstrations of principles from basic mechanics, Newton's cradle, mixing vinegar and baking soda.

          Perhaps it sounds overly pessimistic, but I do believe we have reached a level of technological sophistication as a society where, in order to make big discoveries, you need at least some measurable amount of capital invested into your project, particularly in terms of education, equipment, and time. In light of this, I'm a big proponent of taking scientific perspectives on everyday activities. Cooking and gardening are two great examples. There's a well established movement of chefs working new science-inspired techniques into their cooking, and new gardening methods are developed all the time.

          I love food in particular, and I tend to break food preparation up into two sections: From the sun's energy to the grocery store, and from the grocery store to the plate. For the former, I suggest the books of Michael Pollan, and for the latter, check out Cooking for Geeks. Michael Pollan also writes fantastically about gardening and botany in general.
  • Feb 11 2012: Key is [easy] access to relevant information. Hooking a kitchenér up with information (the recepie) that matches her skill set and current area of interest will spur the experimental creativity within that interest.
    As a post note, killing your tv will undoubtedly help reduce the amount of irrelevant information, even if you don't have one in your kitchen.
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    Feb 10 2012: I wonder if you've seen "What Einstein Told His Cook," published by W. W. Norton (two volumes), written by Robert L. Wolke. This humorous and savvy chemist has produced informative vignettes of questions and answers like, "Why does a recipe tell me to use unsalted butter, and then later to add salt." He begins, "It sounds silly, but there's a reason." The volumes include recipes and are a just plain fun synthesis of solid science and plain talk.
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      Feb 11 2012: Thank you for the book reference.
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    Feb 10 2012: Absolutely true. Science these days is meant to appear so complicated that when people hear it, they tend to avoid it. For example science can be related with cooking, because a kitchen is like a lab, and when you are in the kitchen, you are carrying out an experiment, by putting together different ingredients with a goal of making something delicious out of the different ingredients. They have made it seem so hard that a lot of women now feel like it is a burden to cook for their husband. They prefer eating out all the time, instead to taking sometime to experiment with different ingredients which is the same thing scientists and lab technicians do. So i think this is a very important topic, and there should be more awareness created about this, so it won't be heading to the point where every young person thinks anything science is difficult, and we might end up not having young folks interested in anything science at some point.
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      Feb 11 2012: Oh Mr. Onuoha, many of us enjoy cooking still......and experimenting with all kinds of baked goodies, not only for our husbands, but also for our friends.

      We have even tried our hand at rock candy using sugared water, a jar and a string.....lots of fun!!!
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    Feb 10 2012: I understand science can be difficult, but it's not that difficult :-)

    If you have many hands it will be light work.
    Many times different areas or fields of expertise are needed.
    What may be very difficult for you,will be easy for someone else.
    I would like to form a club or organization to do this.
    I have a small machine shop and I am volunteering my services.
    Looking for people with ideas and some answers.
    Tom Klein
    Milwaukee Wisconsin

    TMKlein123@ Yahoo.com

    I live in Milwaukee Wisconsin
  • Feb 10 2012: I think that first you have to separate two concepts, one being "Science at home" and another one "Science for all". Science at home would mean buying your own stuff and use it, say, in your kitchen, garage, or any place at home where you can set your own lab (I imagine this will be a hard task for those with children). Science for all (guessing this is what you meant to appoint) is something that I'm sure it is already happening in some parts of the world (beyond drug labs) and that it is born out of necessity. For example myself, I study Environmental Technology, and for my research report I wanted to measure the levels of nitrates, phosphates and chlorides as well as total suspended solids in the outputs of a few stormwater management facilities, but there was a problem with the school and they wouldn't lend us (the students) any equipments or kits, we are only allowed to use the labs. So I measure chlorides and total suspended solids in the lab, and I have kits for measuring nitrates and phosphates that I bought at an aquarium store, and I use them on site. This way I don't have to spend so much time in the lab. I am sure I'm not the only one with problems with his school, not to mention that my scenario is not the only one that requires creative thinking. Now, probably you don't hear this stories too often, but I'm sure I'm not the only scientist who has had to improvise in order to get his project up and running.
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    Feb 10 2012: Have you taken a look at MIT Fab Labs? Also Hackerspaces.org? These are great ways for people to be able to access science and electronics skills without spending a ton of money.
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      Feb 12 2012: Hey Claude,

      You are absolutely right - in this day and age, people just don't have the push for curiosity any more. With television and all sorts of other electronics at our fingertips, we see no need to try to be creative or curious about anything; it is just so easy to flip on the television or computer and kill a couple of hours.

      In the past, before all of this technology was around, I imagine people were much more active, both physically and mentally. They didn't have any modern technologies to waste their time with, so they had to be creative.

      Since we see what is happening, it is in our power to turn things around. I have a younger brother and I hate that he comes home from school and just watches TV (at least he finishes his homework first). I make an effort to play with him or do what I can to keep him off the electronics. I haven't been too good about promoting kitchen science, but at least I am getting him off of the tv a little bit. As much as these kids like watching tv, they actually are really curious about things. All it takes is a simple experiment or idea to spark something in them, and you've got the ball rolling. Even just having them play with toys might keep their mind more active than if they were watching tv.

      As for jobs, you are right: finding a job where they can do what they love is difficult, and may at times feel impossible. Sometimes we get lucky, and other times we have to compromise, but regardless, the people that pursue their passions do seem to be happier.
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        Feb 12 2012: Hey Andrew,
        good job on keeping your brother away from the TV. It is a great start for your brother to do something more productive. Perhaps you should show him some of your area of expertise for inspiration. As for job, I feel people don't do what they love most of the time. But perhaps we can incorporate what we love into the our jobs. Its difficult, but it will inspire some creativity. For example, I work in an office and my job include checking any typo in mailing list, I am thinking writing a program that can do the job for me. It is an example of incorporating what I love(programming) into my job.
      • Feb 13 2012: My original comment was removed for violating the guidelines (which it really didn't...) so I'll try to be less blunt this time. Modified version below.

        No offense, but this is not true. I'm on the internet, procrastinating. I should be doing my physics homework. So does that mean I'm not curious? No, it doesn't. It means I'm spending my time doing something more productive than homework. For instance, in 6th grade, I taught myself programming, to the detriment of my schoolwork. I'm surprised people are taking this view here, of all places. When i'm bored, I browse wikipedia and read articles. I just read them, not for reference, just reading. Know why? (it involves curiosity, and the reason isn't that I lack it).

        I guess the original was too angry. I'm the kind of person you're talking about when you say people are too lazy. What you don't realize is that's what EVERYBODY thinks about the next generation. It's like my grandparents saying that my parents' generation had no morals because they listened to rock'n'roll.

        EDIT, responding to comments responding to me, because ted doesn't let us nest comments past 3 levels:
        I suppose what you're saying is true, but my parents didn't do anything special to me to make me how I am. Humans are naturally curious. Just because TV is stimulating and satisfies that curiosity for a short time doesn't mean it's bad or should be avoided to encourage creativity and curiosity.
        • Feb 14 2012: Hello Nolan,

          I actually think that your ideas are not as radically different from those in the previous comments as might appear at first glance. To use the Internet as an educational tool (as you have done) requires a level of maturity that many people do not reach during their time in school. You seem to be describing the mature, educated Internet user, while many of the previous commenters are talking about young, impressionable children. Is it reasonable to expect, say, a second-grader to use technology in a productive manner? In an article that I came across in Businessweek (http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/635134.html), I read that children today spend an average of four and a half hours in front of the television. I would guess that the majority of these children are blindly consuming television programs rather than actively engaging with the content to which they are exposed. While children may learn something from the television, I’m not so sure that the passive consumption of televised programming encourages creative thinking. Now, suppose a child does not learn to think creatively: can we really expect him or her to show any interest in the sciences?
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          Feb 14 2012: My first reply to you was removed too. I was thanking you for coming back and explaining how you gain scientific knowledge.

          Science is very exciting and I find flexibility is necessary to approach learning since there are many different types of learners.

          Claude makes a good point though....what do you do with the knowledge you accumulate?

          Thanks. Mary
  • Feb 10 2012: I agree with you, Sophie. I'm sure you're right about which kids are good at that kind of thing. When I was young, girls mostly didn't play with toys that taught them physics or probability or logic. They played with dolls. *ugh* So I was a tomboy! I wanted blocks and tinkertoys and trucks. And there's also watching people do things. I did that all the time when I was a kid--I'd watch my father build something, or follow ants to see what they did, or something like that. My favorite thing was to watch construction equipment, moving dirt around or laying pavement or putting up buildings. Guess what I was good at when I got older? MATH!!
    It seems like the things we learn when we're kids have a greater proportional effect than the things we do when we're older, and this makes sense, naturally, since there are fewer things in there for them to compete with! It's SO important for kids to really observe, help others do things, and do stuff for themselves. It makes me cringe to think of all the time many children spend glued to electronics, and of course they learn things there too, but they need to spend a lot more time in the real world learning things.
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      Feb 10 2012: You are so right, Jude. And you also put forth a good argument for why education should be more about experience than standardized testing .... especially in the early years.
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    Feb 10 2012: Kitchen science often has its origins in 'need'. For instance, the need to save energy - or generate your own.

    I'm looking to go as much 'off grid' as I possibly can in my electricity consumption, and will probably build my own permanent magnet generators to help, via batteries and an inverter, with low-power appliances, such as LED lighting.

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    Feb 10 2012: As in Heston?

    Other than that: hackerspaces and Igem are some great leads...
  • Feb 9 2012: There's an idea, and it is one I haven't thought of before. Then again, science is something I'm only mildly interested in - unless its meteorology, and then I'm all over it.

    Actually, one reason why I often feel disconnected from science is because I feel it isn't as accessible as other subjects. You don't need fancy equipment to really dive into literature or history or math, but for science? ... Or so I thought. Now that you mention it, I wonder why we do not have more "kitchen" scientists, especially in the education system. ^^ Maybe this idea is simply not well known enough yet. Otherwise, I see no reason why we couldn't have more "kitchen scientists".
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      Feb 10 2012: Taught "science" in Texas a few years ago ... wasn't even provided with any lab facilities, nor were there any plans to. I did receive several great big textbooks, though! My science room was a mess by the end of year ... refused to teach without hands-on activities. Most of the materials I used were from the neighboring hardware store or large grocery chain.
      Students achieved over 90% on their science TAKS tests .... state average was in the 70s.
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        Feb 11 2012: Mr. Pack kudos to you!!!!! That's what I'm talking about.......some teachers just don't want to be bothered.

        Why??? because kids get loud and excited and MESSY during science labs...they don't want to deal with classroom discipline and untidiness....BUT IT'S SUPPOSED to be exciting, and yes kids get out of control, but that passes once they see that calm is needed to proceed. Some teachers just don't get it. They sacrifice discovery for a safe haven of orderliness. oy

        It is very very sad. Science is so much fun.....and it DOES NOT have to be expensive.

        I hope some science teachers read through this conversation thread.

        It's nice to know there are teachers like you Mr. Pack.
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          Feb 11 2012: I also found, working with other teachers, that many are afraid the kids aren't learning if they are too excited, or having fun, or not sitting down quietly taking notes or answering questions out of the book!
          Science is everywhere ... all you have to do as a teacher is connect what you want kids to learn with what's around them in their world. I always told the kids that I liked teaching science because they already knew everything ... it was just my job to connect their life to what they needed to "know" for some other power to be.
          Now Mary, stop calling me Mr. Pack ... I don't need to be reminded how old I am! ;-)
          And it's equally nice to hear of all those who "practice" science with their students ... instead of spoon feeding "facts".
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        Feb 11 2012: Thank you Dennis!!! It's great to know you. Here's a great teacher quote for you:

        The mediocre teacher tells,
        The good one explains,
        The superior one shows,
        The great one inspires!

        To you and your great teaching skills Dennis Pack!!! Cheers!!

        [Edited spelling]
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        Feb 12 2012: This is an great example of bring "science to life", not drowning the students into the big heavy txtbook. I am not saying that txtbooks are just dull and useless. They are in fact the opposite. Txtbooks are great tool for further investigation of the subject. It just people need to be interested in the subject and are willing to open the txtbooks themselves, not being forced. I think your teaching method is the best way to open the gate of science for the students.
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          Feb 12 2012: So true Yu-An ... love your statement "need to be interested in the subject and are willing to open the txtbooks themselves,"

          Nothing beats self-motivation ... Always told parents "I can't teach you son/daughter anything if they don't want to learn" ... my job? Get them excited and interested ... then, learning just happens.
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    Feb 8 2012: .
    Theres no reason why someone couldn't rent out a community hall and teach people basic practical science experiments using the simple/affordable equiptment in question. It would get alot of entertainment from children and families and people would more inclined to correlate science with intrigue.

    I may consider it myself oneday if time becomes less of a factor.