August 31, 2010

First Singles Tennis Champion in U.S. – 1881

Today my husband, a tennis player, coach, and fan, is going to New York City to attend the U. S. Open, a Grand Slam tennis tournament, for the very first time!

On this day in 1881, the first U. S. Open, then called the U. S. National Championship, was completed with 19-year-old Harvard student Richard D. Sears winning the title.

During the tournament, Sears didn't lose a single set.

Sears went on to win the title every year for seven consecutive years. (This record is still unbroken, but the rules were different then, which makes it hard to compare athletes' accomplishments.) He retired from the game in 1887, still undefeated.

Watch some of the U.S. Open tennis today.

Or play some tennis. It's a great game, lots of fun AND lots of exercise, and a game you can play with just one other person, all your life.

  • Here is an interesting video about some of the pre-tennis games and activities that teachers use with young kids getting started with tennis.

  • And here is a video capturing a few moments of one of the greatest tennis matches of recent years.

  • And this one shows three fantastic tennis exchanges.

August 30, 2010

Happy Birthday, Sylvia Earle!

Although my last name is Earle, too, this well-respected oceanographer is not a relation of mine. (I wish she was!)

Sylvia Earle became famous in the 1970s as she led a group of five female aquanauts 50 feet deep into the ocean to live for two weeks in a small

underwater home during Mission 6 of the Tektite II project. Earle continued to do scientific research but used her fame to become a public speaker, writer, and film producer as she advocated more research on oceans and ocean life, and as she urged people to be more environmentally conscious.

Some of the highlights of her career include being chief scientist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

She is sometimes called “Her Deepness” or “The Sturgeon General.”

Learn more about the oceans.

  • Here are some ideas for young children.
  • Here are some games and puzzles for older kids.
  • Check out the website of the organization Earle headed (NOAA) for information about the ocean and photo galleries about the ocean.

August 29, 2010

Nut Spas – Russia

This holiday is the last of three Russian holidays in August: Honey Spas (August 14), Apple Spas (August 19), and Nut Spas (August 29). These holidays celebrate the harvesting of honey, fruit, and nuts, and many Russians eat the featured food on these holidays. Also, many Russians visit friends, carrying with them candy or flower gifts, and give small gifts to children.

Here are some Russian recipes with honey, apples, and nuts. Or try these recipes for Russian Nut Balls, Nut Roll Bread, or Nut Cakes.

August 28, 2010

Discovery of a very special moon – 1789

When Sir William Herschel first spotted Saturn's moon Enceladus, he didn't know it was special. It just looked like a little speck of light circling the magnificently ringed planet.

But we now know better. We have a spacecraft way out there near Saturn, Cassini, and it has been circling around the planet, taking measurements and photos, for the past six years. And what it shows about Enceladus is that half of the moon is cratered (like most planets and moons in the solar system) but the other half is smoooooth. Even more interesting, there are “tiger stripes,” which are four depressions or cracks, on one portion of the smooth half (shown here with false color), and water geysers periodically go off through cracks. The water instantly turns into ice, of course, and it is the apparently the snow made from these geysers that fills in and covers the craters and makes that part of the moon smooth.

That's pretty surprising, and nobody knows why the cracks and geysers are only on one part of the moon instead of scattered pretty evenly over the moon.

Stay tuned for more about Enceladus in the future!

August 27, 2010

Gallium is discovered – 1875

Gallium doesn't exist by itself in nature, so it took some doing to find it!

Dmitri Mendeleev predicted its existence, using the periodic table of elements: There was zinc (Zn) with atomic number 30, and arsenic (As) with atomic number 33... So, Mendeleev asked, where were the elements with the atomic numbers 31 and 32?

The beauty of Mendeleev's periodic table is that elements share properties with the elements positioned above them on the table. So Mendeleev was able to guess some of the properties of the elements before they had even been discovered.

After 15 years of work, Paul Emile Lecoq de Boisaudran discovered the predicted element with atomic number 31. He named the new element gallium in honor of his country, France (Gallia).

Lecoq made his discovery with a spectroscope, which uses a prism to separate the various colors of light from a light source. When chemists use spectroscopes, they either burn a bit of material and analyze the light emitted from the burning material, or they create a gas form of the material and shine white light through the gas and see which light is absorbed.

In this case, Lecoq was analyzing zinc blende, and he found two violet lines that were not accounted for by other elements in the ore. Later the same year, Lecoq was able to isolate gallium using a process called electrolysis.

Gallium is right under aluminum on the periodic table, and like aluminum it is a soft, silvery metal.

Create a spectrum. Use a glass prism to separate white light into a rainbow. Yep, a rainbow is a spectrum! Remember, each raindrop acts as a prism separating the light.

If you don't have a prism, check out this YouTube video of a prism creating a rainbow.

And here is a video about a man called the Rainbow Maker.

August 26, 2010

Women's Equality Day – U.S.

About 140 years after the birth of the United States, women finally became full citizens!

Today is the commemoration of the 19th Amendment becoming a part of the U. S. Constitution in 1920. That is the amendment that gave women the right to vote.

The right to vote is sometimes called suffrage.

Check out the History Channel's website on women's suffrage, with photo galleries, a video, and lots more links.

Or look at the virtual museum exhibit here.

August 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Leonard Bernstein

Have you ever heard the music for “West Side Story?” Leonard Bernstein wrote it!

This American conductor, composer, pianist, and author was born on this day in Massachusetts, in the U.S., to Ukrainian Jewish parents. He studied music at Harvard University and did some post-grad work at a special music school in Philadelphia. (In his conducting class, Bernstein got the only “A” grade his teacher, Fritz Reiner, ever awarded anyone, any time.)

Bernstein composed music for ballet, opera, musical theater, and film. He created pieces and symphonies simply for their own sake, to be played by orchestras. He created chamber music, choral and vocal music, and piano music. He won several Tony awards and tons of Grammy awards.

Celebrate composing your own pieces.

If you have a piano, fiddle around until you find a sequence of notes (a musical phrase, as it were) that you really like. Then build on it. Reverse the notes. Play the phrase higher and lower. Add flourishes. Vary into a completely different sequence, and then go back to the original.

If you don't have a piano, try using the virtual piano found here or here. Notice that the first website has different sounds and drum beats available, and the second website has a “record” option with which you can save and replay the tune you are creating. Have fun!

August 24, 2010

Independence Day – Ukraine

On this day in 1991, Ukraine became independent of the Soviet Union. The Act of Declaration sets out that Ukraine is a democratic state.

The Act was put up for a referendum vote by the people, and more than 90% of the votes cast approved independence.

Today Ukraine is the second largest country in Eastern Europe and is the home of pysanky, which are batiked eggs. To decorate an egg, you use a special tool called a kistka to draw designs that will remain white on the egg, then you dye the egg yellow. Next, you add more lines and designs that you want to remain yellow, and then dye the egg a medium color such as green. Continue adding waxed designs and dying in darker and darker colors (such as light blue, dark blue, and black). Finally, use the flame of a candle and a soft cloth or paper towel to remove all of the layers of wax and reveal the multi-colored egg. Gorgeous!

These decorated eggs are often considered Easter eggs, but the Ukrainians were creating these beautiful eggs before the time of Jesus.

Here is a video about pysanky.

August 23, 2010

The State of Franklin Established – 1784

Did you know that part of the land that now makes up Tennessee was once the state of Franklin?

The pioneers who had settled this land, which originally belonged to North Carolina but had been given to Congress and then taken back again, became upset with the government of North Carolina and decided to set up their own independent state. On this date in 1784, representatives of four North Carolina counties declared their lands independent of North Carolina.

The first proposed name was Frankland, but when the Continental Congress wouldn't admit the tiny state to the union, leaders changed the name to Franklin. They were hoping that fans of Benjamin Franklin would look on their state with favor. However, Congress never did admit the state to the union, and after four years, Franklin folded. The counties went scuttling back to North Carolina, wanting protection from the state militia.

Like I said, the counties became part of Tennessee in 1796.

There are still a few remnants of the State of Franklin: there is a State of Franklin Bank and a State of Franklin Road in modern-day Tennessee.

Did you know...?

  • In 1854, the California State Assembly passed a plan to cut the state into three parts, Colorado (the name wasn't in use as a state name then), Shasta, and California.

  • The State of Jefferson, created from Northern California and Southern Oregon, was ceremonially declared in 1941.

  • In 1969, some people ran for city government in New York City under the platform that NYC should secede from New York State and become the 51st state!

  • There are a few groups today that want to secede from the United States? The Alaskan Independence Party, famous because Sarah Palin's husband Todd was a registered member for seven years, wants Alaska to become an independent nation, and there are petitions for California's secession on the internet.

August 22, 2010

Steamboat Demonstrated – 1787

On this day in 1787, John Fitch made his first successful demonstration of his steamboat in the Delaware River. It was not only a first for him, it was a first for the United States.

Unfortunately for Fitch, he was not able to profit from his idea as much as he hoped—and he isn't even the guy we usually hold up in the history books. It is Robert Fulton, working a couple of decades later, who was able to make steamboats profitable and who is most often mentioned when discussing this leap forward in transportation.

Did you know...?

Today's nuclear-powered submarines and warships are powered by steam-driven turbines. The nuclear reactors heat the water into steam.

Steamships were given names that included two-letter codes for what kind of steam power they had. “SS” meant Screw Steamer, “PS” meant Paddle Steamer, and “TS” meant Turbine Ship.

Here are instructions for making a steam-powered “rocket boat.”

August 21, 2010

Mona Lisa Stolen – 1911

It seems that it might take a lot of planning and even technology to steal one of the world's most famous paintings, but on this day in 1911, Vincenzo Peruggia just walked into the Louvre, took down the painting, hid it in his clothes, and strolled out.

Some time later an amateur painter set up his easel to paint a copy of the master painting, and of course noticed that it was gone—and that is the first the Louvre knew of the theft!

It took two years to recover the painting. Investigators and detectives couldn't find it, but Peruggia attempted to return the painting for ransom money and was caught.

Thankfully, the painting was unharmed.

Create your own portrait, inspired by the Mona Lisa.

August 20, 2010

Voyager 2 Launched – 1977

This unmanned spacecraft took photos and measurements of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune and then streaked out of the solar system towards the stars. It carried a 12-inch copper phonograph record with recorded greetings from Earth people in 60 languages, along with samples of music and natural sounds including whale singing. Electronic information that an advanced technological civilization could convert to diagrams and pictures accompanies the music.

Voyager 2 has been in continuous operation for 12,016 days now, and it is more than 14 billion kilometers away from the sun. It takes almost 13 hours for signals from the spaceship to reach Earth.

The data we are now receiving from the spacecraft concerns the properties of the solar wind and its interaction with interstellar winds.

Did you know that there was wind in space? The sun ejects streams of charged particles in all directions, making a sphere or a “bubble” in the interstellar medium (gas and dust) that surrounds the solar system. This bubble is called the heliosphere.

I know you've probably heard that outer space is a vacuum, which means that it is pretty much empty—no matter at all... Now I'm saying that there are charged particles, gas, and dust, let alone all the radio waves, light, and other forms of radiation. But the matter in outer space is so sparse, it still makes a high-quality vacuum that is hard for us here on Earth to copy, with just a few atoms per cubic centimeter.

Check out the Voyager website!

Don't forget to check out the kids' section.

August 19, 2010

National Aviation Day – U.S.

Celebrated on the birthday of Orville Wright, the first pilot of a successful airplane flight, this day is one in which people are encouraged to visit aviation history sites (many small airports feature small but cool museums!), read about aviation, and so forth.

Learn about lift, make a paper helicopter, and do other experiments about flight.

August 18, 2010

The Wilkes Expedition Sets Off – 1838

Nineteenth-century science and the U.S. science establishment got a huge boost from this expedition, which used U.S. Naval ships to explore the world, primarily the Pacific Ocean, including Hawaii, Fiji, and the coastlines of Oregon and Antarctica. More than 60,000 plant and bird specimens were collected, and many of these formed the bulk of the original collections of the Smithsonian Institution.

Formally called “the United States Exploring Expedition,” the venture was nicknamed the “Ex. Ex.” After years of planning, the Ex. Ex. finally weighed anchor on this day in 1838.

There were six ships, but in the four years of the expedition, one sank. In addition to ship pilots and crew, the expedition included naturalists, botanists, engraver/illustrators, a mineralogist, a conchologist, taxidermists, an interpreter, and a philogist. Match the job titles in this list with the descriptions below:

  1. naturalist

  2. botanist

  3. engraver / illustrator

  4. mineralogist

  5. conchologist

  6. taxidermist

  7. interpreter

  8. philogist

A. one who stuffs dead animals for exhibition

B. one who studies plants

C. one who studies rocks and minerals

D. one who creates pictures through printmaking techniques

E. one who studies mollusks and their shells

F. one who translates from one language to another

G. one who studies plants and animals

H. one who studies languages and linguistics

ANSWERS: 1.G – 2.B – 3.D – 4.C – 5.E – 6.A – 7.F – 8.H

August 17, 2010

Indonesian National Day

This holiday celebrates Indonesia's independence from 350 years of Dutch rule. Many people and businesses decorate in red and white and display flags. There are festivities such as races, bicycle decorating contests, and eating contests – how many shrimp chips can you eat?

One of the most popular contests is involves climbing palm trees whose trunks are well greased with a mixture of clay and oil. In the top of each tree hangs a prize, such as a TV or a bike.
Whoever gets to the top first gets the prize. Apparently muddy, greasy kids and adults climb over each other in their eagerness to get to the top first.

Did you know...?
  • The vast majority of Indonesians are Muslim, but Indonesia is home to the largest Buddhist monument in the world, Borobudur.

  • Indonesia has many, many, many active volcanoes—at least 150! This number includes Krakatoa and Tambora, both famous for devastating eruptions during the 1800s. The Toba supervolcano around 70,000 years ago is one of the largest eruptions EVER, anywhere on Earth. That supervolcanic eruption is thought to have caused most humans then alive in the entire world to die.
  • Indonesia is made up of 17,508 islands! Only around 6,000 are occupied. (At the link, click "Show Map." You can scroll around the map, and you can choose “satellite,” “terrain,” and so forth.)
  • Indonesia is home to some amazing creatures, including the nine-and-a-half-foot Komodo dragon and the orangutan.

Learn some Indonesian.
Hello-World has flash cards, games, and lessons.

August 16, 2010

Klondike gold rush!

Gold was discovered in Klondike Creek in Canada on this day in 1896. The news took ten months to reach the U.S., but then a gold rush of Americans started, and people from as far away as Australia and South Africa came, as well. At one point there might have been more than 40,000 people in Klondike, and the possibility of famine seemed possible.

Possibly because of other gold rushes, such as “THE Gold Rush” to the California gold fields in 1849, many men who came to try their luck in the Klondike area knew that they weren't likely to strike it rich. They came partly for the adventure, and many happily turned to other ways of earning money, and stopped short or went further than the gold fields as well. For this reason, the Klondike gold rush helped develop the economy of Alaska, Western Canada, and the Pacific Northwest.


  • Eat a Klondike bar!

  • Check out this website that shows what Fool's Gold (pyrite) looks like in a 3-D molecular model. First, click the molecule diagram. Use your mouse to rotate the molecule (or to click the box “spin the molecule”), and use the mouse with the shift key to zoom in and out, as specified at the bottom of the window. Cool!
Now compare the pyrite molecular model to the molecular model of gold.

August 15, 2010

Panama Canal officially opened – 1914

After ten years of work, the 48-mile (77 km) canal was completed, linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and cutting in half the trip from the East Coast of the U.S. to the West Coast.

Digging the canal was a huge and difficult engineering project. The French tried to build a canal in the late 1800s, and 21,900 workers died (mostly from tropical diseases) before they finally gave up the effort. The U.S. canal construction wasn't as deadly, but 5,600 workers lost their lives before the canal was finished.

Did you know...?

It takes from eight to ten hours to travel the canal.

The maximum size of ship that can use the canal is called Panamax.

Although the Pacific Ocean is west of the Atlantic, crossing from the Pacific to the Atlantic involves going the opposite you would think: from (south)east to (north)west. This is because the narrow chunk of land where the canal is built is a sort of “S” curve.

Word Play

Do you know what a palindrome is? It is a word or phrase that reads the same backwards or forwards. The words “mom” and “level” are both palindromes.

The Panama Canal is the subject of one of the longest and most famous palindromes:


August 14, 2010

World Lizard Day

Lizards are reptiles that are closely related to snakes. One of the biggest difference between most lizards and snakes is that most lizards have legs! Also, most lizards have external ears, while most snakes don't.

Like other reptiles, lizards have scaly skin, breathe air with lungs, and are cold-blooded, which means that they get their body heat from the environment rather than making their own body heat like birds and mammals.

There are lots of varieties of lizards. Many can detach their tails, leaving them behind with a predator to escape death. Some can use their coloring as camouflage, and most can see colors well and even communicate with mates and others through color. Some lizards are quite small, and some are huge—the Komodo dragon is nine and half feet long!

  • Learn more about lizards here. There is a slide show and loads of information.
  • Draw a lizard. Here's how.
  • Sculpt a lizard. Here's an idea.