Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sketches For A Complexity Lab At A Science Center

1) can't go out and collect ants or plants or insects so will have to have some kind of... could have a table of 100 laminated leaves and you get to mess around and see if they all look different! can you really tell? can you see enough detail if you use a handlense? through the lamination? can you really tell the diff between a few different grass blades? under 30times you can see the cell surfaces, rows of stomates.. really? pressed like that? got to be dried/pressed THEN laminated. under sanitary conditions? but the point of this exercise is too see the levels of detail, the trichomes, the cell patterns, stomate patterns... can you see that through lamination?

2) certainly have rows and rows of 1000s of insects. in individual cases so you can pick em up and see in detail the hairs and subtle... i mean to key out the ant genera i had to look at subtle details, shapes dammit

how does one take the time to do this at a science center?

how does one get the cumulative impact of all these lessons by randomly walking around a science center for an unpredictable amount of time? well, one of my dreams was to have a science center where kids would come back to time and time again over course of weeks after school and slowly put together story. bar, YOUR SIMPLIFIED version of 4 workshops was 4 periods of 6 weeks. that's like 48 hour meetiings. no one is going to spend THAT much time at a science center! MAYBE.. how many times did I visit the American Museum of Natural History the last time I lived in Manhattan? DOZENS! Complexity lab sums up A LIFETIME OF YOUR STUDY. how can you compact that into a few science center experiences?

ok, i'm not being realistic!

so at a science center what if different kids see their own mix of a FEW of the complexity lab things? would that still be of value?

come on make a list of labs that can be perused quickly at a science center:

1) for sure i can make a display of 30X30 insects=1000 that obviously look different lets see: 1cm each is 1ft by 1ft, hmm not much, some like butterflies and moths and dragonflies (and larvae?) will take up to 10X10cm so... say 20 10X10s + 40 5X5cms + 100 2X2s +2000 1X1s =2000 + 1000 + 400 + 2000 = 5400cm^2, 54X100 = 1 1/2 X 3 ft, nothing!

even 100 10X10 + 100 5X5 + 1000 2x2 + 5000 1X1=
10,000+2500+4000+5000 = 21,500 = 3X8ft that's nice, that's 6200 insects!, hell i can even have a 5X10 case with a swirl of a 100 tiny insects! so that's 10,000 different insects. you can include spiders and other land arthropods...

remember wanting a montage of 1000s of diff organisms? hell, you can have a diarama you can walk through: hanging plants above you, scatter tiny critters up front, blow ups of microscopic critters in spots, sea critters in one spot, progressively in the background larger fish and mammals, birds.. maybe you can pack in a million diff critters? 1million would be too much work to assemble! that's a 1000 people working on 1000 each. Too much? That's the work it takes to produce a FEW movies! Yeah but it won't net you 8$/person for 1000s of people? and gov grants are tight these days. well hell a sceicne center charges these days..

anyway 10s of 1000s is easy enough
2) then two different insects under 30 power or whatever to see detail
3) then slide of complexity of surface of plant leaf...
4) can still have table of leaves and keys lying about and the kids can try their hand at keying out a few leaves...
5) how many of those 260 honeybee behaviors can you see in a few minutes watching an observation hive? well you can at least have a list of 100 50 30 obvious behaviors basic to honeybee life and ask: how many can you spot?
6) insect munching on grass under lense?
7) what kind of animal can you have in a cage or tank that's really active and you can see lots of behaviors? i think the point is that an observation hive would show the most behaviors.

now bar, how much of the computer stuff can you learn in a few minutes?

8) well you can certainly have a bare computer chip a basic one, like an 8080 or something, see how tiny, then another under microscope see a hint at the complexity, then a wall sized blow up, then..

9) diagram of the various circuits, flip flops, multiplexers... how they work

how does someone look and realize how they work? animations of how the signals go though them.. you can even have a table where you put in a grid of cubes... a giant sized digiboard! with signal inputs with leds. you put a logic gate on a signal input and see the output, then you look at the diagrams and put the blocks together. have blocks with those numeric displays.. how do you match up the leads? a numeric display will have 7 inputs per digit. what's the geometry here? make it big enough so that it has 8 block faces: 3 blocks long, then you have to snake the other block outputs to them, need a way to cross wires, that's a block! a wire cross block.

bar that's insane! do you know how big the damm thing will have to be? how much can you do with a grid on a wall pannel? the blocks stick to it. make 'em.. i was thinking 2X2 inches to make it easy to handle. so a grid (it's gonna be little kids!) 6feet wide by 2feet tall is 36X12 blocks. is that enough to make ciruits? then chunk the circuits but then there is the problem of leads... nope! have blocks that represent various combinations of 4 wires at a time split 8wires into different directions: 8 input on one face and it's 4 blocks long and the 8 other faces are one lead out each.

it would take much too long to make a circuit on this!!

need a better idea. but bar it would be cool! kids would love it!

well? at least display of how to combine transistors to make two different gates

next level how to combine bunch of gates to make circuts clock, counter...

next level how to combine these to make central processor

animations showing how the signals work... could be a short movie like they have at these places.

[hell bar, think the whole complexity lab thing out as a video series like nova or...oh. nah.. it's got to be interactive!]

you can make the circuites show the signals going though at each step if you have the kid be the clock, he clocks it at his own pace to follow through, if he gets lost he resets it. he has switches he can flick up or down to set up the inputs...

10) write machine code? hmmm simplest. show 4 bit processor has few basic instructions, inc, dec, set=0, dec and loop, so they can make simple programs on a screen of some kind... but what's gonna happen here? it takes some period of learning of motivation to figure out how to make a program. what do you want them to be able to accomplish?

ultimately program legobots but i don't want it to be abstract, i want them to see that it's all based on these basic mechanical components. the legobot programing environment was a mystical make believe geometric representation on a computer screen. i don't want that! that's magic!

so can you make a simple legobot that's controled by the code for that simple machine?
dec and loop 2 4bit address = program has 256 steps! that's plenty
load register 4 bit or 8bit number
move forward one click or 4bit number clicks
rotate right or one of 16 compass directions
rotate left
turn on light
turn off light
detect bump sensor
detect lighth sensor
branch if detect

show the actual circuitry of the robot, the 4 bit processor

bar, you are dreaming. how will you test this all out to see how feasible it is? and again... how will kids write the programs?

so you see the blow up 4bit processor circuit on the wall.

then you have the legobot with hex display or something and button for load, read, reset etc.. like my Cosmac 1802 board. and lights and things inside the clear case to simulate these signals going to the 4bit processor. the clock rate is like a pulse every 2seconds so they can see all the steps... or again, you can turn a dial to slow down the pulse rate or speed it up... hmmm

hell you can make the bot big enough (good, robust) to have a keyboard with a button for each command, labeled, inc, dec, loop, back, rotate... and then a shift key to use those same keys for the hex numbers. of course you have on the wall the diagram for the circuit that polls the keyboard! well it's a simple circuit, keypress signals a register with input etc.. 16 line to 4 bit decoder...

so then what? so they start making programs:
move 5
move 5
move 5
move 5

that makes a square that's easy enough to suggest to a kid.

show some programs that the kid can watch and then he modifies them...

the concept of looping...

loop 2
loop 1
move 5
test for bump
until 1
until 2

bar that's a sophisticated concept! do you think you can really get kids at a science center to begin to play with this stuff? i don't think science museum is the right environment for sitting down and experimenting and thinking.

i don't know. what if you just show the programs and see how they loop, proceed while watching the bot, and then you can modify the programs?

then you can watch on the wall a diagram (watch the bouncing ball...) run through a complicated program while watching the bot go at it...

don't know.

11) watch real sophisticated bots play soccer but at least you've seen their innards?

12) not gonna dissect an insect in a science museum! of course can have CLASSES at the museum! oh.

12) alongside the microchip display, a slide of a slice of a honeybee brain, under microscope... wow, big wallsize pic of complicated connections

13) model of a car with tough plastic parts and bolts? can take it apart put together (would be chaotic) then how to show that a blow up car sized ant has more parts? well there are the slides... car sized model insect with take apart parts... but, these parts will have the fine sculptre that the insect parts would have.. so at what level is the insect more complicated? hmmm well, it's got 6 legs for instance, show the joints, the tarsal segments, the mechanisms to make the joints, the springy muscles... would have to be able to split the leg open, the wires going throu to the various muscles for nerves, does the tracheal system go into the legs? it must, it goes into the wings, right? hell the veination for the wings alone.. that they are actually hollow fluid filled tubes (i forget, one for trachea one for hemolymph?) the sensors! connected to the nerve wires. ganglia in the legs? so bar how much more complex is a leg than a wheel assembly?

wheel: hub, cap, 6 bolts, innertube, tire, main bolt, i'm forgetting, break disk, complicated break clamp assembly, about 6 parts, the actual actuator mechanism, forget.. axle, ball joint, steering bars, joints, bolts...

leg: femur shell, hairs, tibia shell, hairs, joint, ligaments? muscle, joint to coxa, muscles, tracheal tubes, nerve wires, tarsal joint, each tarsal segment, hairs, tarsal pad, sensors, hairs,

how is it more parts? of course... where is the engine? each muscle moves under its own power.. the engines... are millions of them microscopic.. gar... how many tissue types does an insect have? 100? 50? how many does a modern car have? probably on the same order. and a car might have a 1000 parts including all the tubes and bolts and nuts.. can you show me 1000 parts in an insect? that would be hard.

the comparison between insect and car isn't at the level of organs and tissues... although the 100s of hairs on the insect is impressive or the complexity of the wing venation, or the ridges on the exoskeleton, the texture is more complex, the branching of the tracheal system is much more complex than a car's lube system.. air intake valve.. hmm that begins to hint at it.. that the insect has engines in each of its muscles... hmm... this is actally tricky to show. i don't know the answer. hell bar, you remember that book of honeybee anatomy! go find it at suny, it's GOT to be more complex than a car! i maen things are repeated by segments! a car has what, maybe 6 segments or something?

hell the mouthparts, the glands.. yeah but the carborator the fuel pump... yeah but each segment of the mouthparts has it's own muscles and nerves...

well this is a challange.

14) well anyway now show all the factories necessary to build a car, all the raw material extraction industries... there's the rub, that you can show, maybe as a movie.

now comes the fun part:

15) next to that, a video of how all those insect parts develop INSIDE a pupa! and all from the food the larvae ate.

16) now in terms of slides i can't show how real they are cause we aint gonna slice plants with razor blade and make slides at a science museum exhibit.. why not? why not have a demonstrator do it? make the slides on the spot for the kids to look at under the microscopes? well... if we do... then what can we show about plant development? the apical meristem, how each successive leaf has more cells... then the cells expand..

some kids will look in the microscopes but the demonstrator can also project her microscope onto a big screen

look bar, you want to make this a big deal like that bodies exhibit! god that was really macabre and weird, i don't believe it actually happened, i mean it's basically a snuff film eh?

18) ok 20billion interconnected neurons... ok, demonstrate some multiplication... so you can have already assembled 4" blocks of a 1000 little blocks (yeah but you have to assemble tons of them each time... well you could make 100s of blocks of jello each day... and have a demonstrator slice them... that's messy...

you could have some trays with tons of blocks piled up and color coded, so 1 gold block, 8 silver blocks to make the simplest cube and 27 white blocks and 125 blue blocks, and you can show how multiplication works and how volume and surface area interact and then 100 red blocks to make a 10X10 square and finally 1000 green blocks for 10X10X10 show pictures, at 1" each the cube aint even a cubic foot it wold take 5blocks per second thats 200seconds thats 4 minutes to assemble it, kids could do that

well you can at least have some partially taken apart on display and then you could have at one corner of the exhibit.. my corner wall with the little blocks laid out and you gotta imagine... 1000 inches is hmm 80 ft, have it outside?

so a wall sized micrograph had maybe a big cpu chip with a million transistors... but not so interconnected... then what about a model? make neurons tiny with lots of long dendrites... lots of space in between them.. a display of ( i mean the amnh used to have those incredibly cool glass models of radiolarians... that's what I was brought up on!) so can we construct a model.. with a 1000X1000X1000 neurons all hooked up together with really fine threads? would be a bitch to make, say 10million threads, impossible. can we find some critters that can grow it for us? OOOOHH...

now bar, you can digitally produce movies to show some of this! or even interactive program to display, to manipulate...

demonstrate binary exponential branching, fissioning how? Bar people make tv shows like this, remember that morrison guy, made a tv show with all those contraptions and experiments... he videod that chef pulliing the chinese dough out to a thousand noodles by doubling. you got that book? i think so somewhere...

you pick enough of these to fit in a few episodes and you find a producer... do people watch tv anymore?

dendritic growth? hmm... in a block of jello?

19) so then a video of animal development

20) ok pond water under microscopes watch single celled critters, make sure during all these you are showing how to calculate size, calculate number of cells per organ...

21) show algae growing in sealed containers. they'll have to imagine it happening

22) how long does paper chomotography take, not too long... can we do one like they did with the proteins from squashed cells, and split 'em up into a 100 different spots? discrete spots? that'd be way cool, a hint that something interesting is going on in there... that the critters are made of discrete parts, if we put plants in a blender or squeeze out some clear juices and... what? to get the proteins.. at least they would see the various steps get a hint at what's going on connect the dots, then you can show similar papers with 100 diff proteins separateed out...
if you had a sheet with some visible color spots and then spray some kind of indicator on it and see all the invisible spots show up...

what other molecular demonstrations? see that tv show idea is cool, you can edit splice, speed up time, set up in advance.. only have to do it once then everybody can watch over and over again... how to convince of brownian motion? how to convince them that the jiggling is dead? well you can show diffusion... which is slow.. i don't see how i can demonstrate molecules in an exhibit. But it's the most important thing to do!

23) i guess you could repeatedly demonstrate lipid monolayer..

24) molecles in cell: lots of video animations i guess,

a way to demonstrate organized activity from brownian motion? so we show the clathrin coated pit animation... how can we show that mechanical parts can do this? There was a video of this on youtube i think

now if you could program a whole bunch of interacting legobots with identical simple programs with random input and watch to see if emergent behavior.. video of termites consttructing tower? or weaver ants bending a leaf...

25) wall size metabolic chart with picture representations of each of the molecules

26) photogrtaphs and diagrams calculate how many bricks in the city the museum is in. then display of avogadros number, we are always measuring and calculating in these exhibits, display showing how to cut up cubes of cm^3 etc... to get at how many molecules inside a tiny cell... how DO we calculate how many ribosomes, how many proteins in a cell? weigh the batch of goop, how do you determine molec wieght of a single protein? then divide. you know, i don't know.

yeah? so supply the kids with clipboards and pencils and lots of paper... no, little 10 page notebooks on clipboards and the kids can be always calculatiing... drawing stuff... remember they encouraged that in the nature room at amnh..

27) ok a waterwheel is an easy exhibit, and have the kids pour the water back up to the top or use beebees if the water is too messy (can you make chaotic waterwheel with beebees? they'd get stuck in the holes..have it vibrating (simulates browninan motion!)) to show it takes work to make the thing run

gotta show them there is no MECHANISM behind it!

28) neg feedback show nice big sized thermostat working see the mechanism. make a mechanism with a fast acting thermostat and quick heating with a thermometer so the kids can blow on it or warm it with their hands (?) or someting and watch it try to maintain equilibrium. Let the kids put it together backwards so it goes into runaway positive feedback.

29) now chaotic waterwheel! show some complexity from a simple mechanism! (what's the siimplest mechanism that can act like langton's ant, though not takiing 10,000 steps! )

30) door buzzer solenoid thing, can you make one oscillate really slowly? that'd be cool. how do you show that chemical energy is being USED UP as these patterns are being formed? well what can we get it running on a zinc/coper strip lemonjuice cell? the zinc and copper are the fuel. can we get one going with a really thin zinc and copper strip and watch them get eaten away till they are all gone and the thing stops running? we can get alot of amps out of a voltaic pile, ah. how do you connect? lead to each layer or is it already in series...

31) beakman motor, that's a fun thing to do in an exhibit! have them shape the wire themsevles to get it to work.

so rotary motion is easy to get, but what about something more complicated, interesting? well chaotic waterwheel is interesting... simple thermoacoustic engine running a loom mechanism where each of the mechanisms that lift each individual warp strand is identical and embodies rule 30 and ... can it be done?

32) simplest thermoacoustic engine show it needs hot and cold, but you know bar... it's not so transparent how the damm thing works. better to show someting with cylinders where the air actually expands and contracts. hmmm... anyway can you make one that you can run on heat cool enough for kids to play with and they can see that you can't surround it totally with heat but need hot cold?

33) benard convection: how to show? hmm it appears to require rather exacting requirements? i don't think so but the cells are small. would have to use magnifier, it wouldn't really mean much to kids wold it? see this petrie dish of fluid, then you what? turn a dial? how show you are actually heating it? how much heat do i need, what source can i use, do i need enough heat to burn someone? again i want to show that if you heat top and bottom it doesn't work. in all of these i need to show the need for hot cold.

make one 2 inches by a few feet and have the kids control things to start heating it and see...

now i was going to say can i get convection going in a big container and put a paddlewheel in there belted to another gear on top and show that stuff is swirling, that it can do work? how do i show hot cold with that arrangement? what if i made a glass container closed at top with paddle wheel shaft coming out the top and i can heat or cool the top and bottom?

what can i do to get close to what jupiter looks like? something that produces vortex streets.. layer of oil on water produces colors depending on thickness.. if i get complicated patterns going on the water below them will it modulate the thickness enough to show patterns?

33.5) lava lamp is bascially sloppy benard convection and way cool. and it's big, and it's slow, and we should be able to show and convince that the top needs to be cooler than the bottom!


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almost native to new york state. teacher and storyteller. email: