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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cultivating Family Science Savvy: Not Foiled by Aluminum

Cultivating Family Science Savvy: Not Foiled by Aluminum

This month is an ingenuity challenge with a connection that comes as a surprise to many folks: that is, metals matter in nutrition. Begin with some sheets of aluminum foil. The rolls I have at home are 12 inches wide, so making 12 inch squares is a good start.

Then ask yourself and/or family members: Can you make three toys: one that flies, one that floats, and one that can be tossed?

The Flyer: Most people make paper airplanes out of, well, paper. Making the same type of airplane out of aluminum offers a couple of twists. First, it shines! Second, with aluminum it's easy to put twists and curves in the wings; with paper, you're limited to folds. So with aluminum planes, you can test out ideas about wing shapes in a way you can't with paper planes.

The Floater: While folding the foil was key to the Flyer, here a big idea is "forming." The great thing about foil is that it can take on the shape or "form" of an object that you wrap the foil around. To make a simple boat that will float (say, in a dishpan half-full with water) a kid can start by making a bull boat by wrapping the foil sheet around his fist (or, if you need a bigger boat, around a parent's fist). A can can serve as a finer form for an even bigger bull boat. To make a canoe, a can won't do, but a rolling pin works pretty well as a kitchen-based form. You'll want to fold the ends in like a burrito to help make the bow and the stern watertight..

Whatever hulls family members come up with, it's fun to test to see how much the boats will float. Pennies are particularly useful weights because they allow you to count and to compare how much weight different boats can float.

The Tosser: Making a ball out of aluminum foil is pretty easy. But the range of sizes and weights you can make in a short time is pretty remarkable. And here's what is surprising: family members can start seeing that a sheet of foil falls through the air much slower than a ball made from a sheet of the same size and therefore is the same weight. So now you have a game where you start asking the Galileo question: does a ball made of two sheets of foil fall faster than one made from one sheet? Because you can make the two balls the same size, but one weighs twice as much as the other, you can test if doubling the weight of a ball doubles the speed at which the ball will fall. Encouraging family members to test intuition is a great trait to cultivate.

So why is aluminum foil commonly found in kitchens? It's not just about flights of fancy: foil helps preserve the flavors, colors and nutrients of food by keeping out light and air. Aluminum foil pouches are also great for grilling vegetables outside in the summer.

And while aluminum isn't a big nutrient for humans, you can use it as a reminder to your kids that other metals are, including iron, zinc, phosphorous and calcium, which are all listed right there on the Nutrition Facts on the side of the cereal box. These are "minerals" to a nutritionist, but they're metals to a chemist.

by Thomas M. Zinnen, UW-Extension Biotechnology Policy and Outreach Specialist

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