Adventures in Science

Posts tagged ‘experiment’

Awesome Heros Wield Pee Power

Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin, and Bello Eniola engineered this generator that turns urine into electricity.


A group of four girls ages 14-15 demonstrated their urine-powered generator at the recent Maker Faire Africa in Lagos. The girls’ project also generated a lot of excitement and interest on the web over this last week. Although it won’t be able to compete with the energy output of coal or gasoline, this technique puts forward the possibility that urine could be tapped as one of many (cough) um, clean energy sources. There is probably a stinky pee smell, but clean in this case means it doesn’t give off CO2 emissions or other pollutants.

Let’s take a look at their process—

The Maker Faire Africa blog listed their method as such:

  • Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the hydrogen.
  • The hydrogen goes into a water filter for purification, which then gets pushed into the gas cylinder.
  • The gas cylinder pushes hydrogen into a cylinder of liquid borax, which is used to remove the moisture from the hydrogen gas.
  • This purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator.

Along the whole way there are one-way valves for security, but let’s be honest that this is something of an explosive device…

The generated electricity powers a light bulb which is mostly hidden by the middle girl’s knee in the picture above.

The girls designed their system based on this paper by scientists from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Ohio University. Here is a more reader-friendly article on the paper that you might want to check out before you decide to explore the  scientific paper.

There is also a good deal of scientific debate and skepticism over whether this is a useful or effective electricity generator. The comment thread below that blog post is a good sampling of the discussion.

Good science means hashing out the truth and not taking claims at face value.  The only way to know for sure if this process works is to replicate the girls’ setup. With appropriate mentoring and safety precautions, it would be great to see other kids working to recreate this idea. If it turns out that this works…awesome! Then young scientists can work to make improvements to the technique.

We look forward to the day we can feature the work of the first group of teens that powers a cell phone from this kind of pee-powered system. Game on.

Awesome Hero–The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

William Kamkwamba, Awesome Hero


William Kamkwamba was born to a farming family in Malawi in Africa in 1987. His home and the homes of his neighbors didn’t have electricity or running water. The family’s crops depended on the amount rainfall that they received because their farm had no irrigation. When he was 14, a horrible drought struck Malawi  and the crops failed. Many Malawians died of starvation. William and his family survived but suffered horrific deprivation. His father was deep in debt from buying food for the family so couldn’t afford tuition. William had to drop out of school.

After surviving the famine, William was inspired by a textbook he borrowed from his local library called Using Energy to build a windmill to make electricity and eventually pump ground water from a well to irrigate the family’s farm. He was determined to give his family a more secure food supply with two maize harvests a year as well as an irrigated garden for a variety of vegetables.

William Kamkwamba slowly built his windmill from salvaged and modified scrap material. He describes how he did it in his autobiography The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. The ingenuity involved in the design and construction of his windmill is astounding. This book is *highly* recommended to all young people over the age of 12. Read it. Listen to it. Do it.

There is also a picture book version of William Kamkwamba’s story for younger children because it is *that* good.


Tardigrades in Spaaaaaaaace


Lily the astrofrog says, “I love water bears. They are the first known animal to survive the vacuum of space in low Earth orbit.”

That great video is by Hank Green and SciShow. Check out their whole YouTube channel. It rocks!

Tardigrades, also known as waterbears or moss piglets and even bug bears, are fascinating little creatures. If you have ever looked at soil under a microscope you might have seen some of these little guys. Under ideal lighting they almost look cute–like micro manatees with eight legs.

Shown: ideal lighting conditions


Under a regular microscope they look like this:

A well-fed water bear.


Tardigrades have evolved to be able to survive in extreme conditions including vacuum, high radiation, and temperatures from near absolute zero up to 151 degrees centigrade. They can also survive almost decade without water. They are truly amazing little creatures.

This is an excellent video introduction to tardigrades that explains what makes them so awesome.

Tardigrades might make a great science fair project. They are easy to find outside and are reported to love to live in moss. Get some moss wet and start scanning some of the water drops on your microscope slide. Notice what happens when the water bears dry out. What happens if you then add water? After doing some more research, test some of the claims made about the extreme survivability of tardigrades. Design an experiment that tests water bears under extreme conditions.

Exploring Magnetic Fields

At there is a great explanation of magnetism and magnetic fields for kids by Chris Woodford. If you read that first you will get more out of this post. At the bottom of this post I’ve included a link to a more advanced video on magnetic fields from for those who want a more detailed explanation.

Now let’s play…

Let’s explore the magnetic field or region of space around magnets in which the magnetic force occurs to get some insight into what it is like and how it works. Most of the time magnetic fields are invisible to our eyes. The demonstrations in the following videos help us to see the lines and curves of force of magnetic fields around different types of magnets.

First is this video from funlearners channel on YouTube:

Here we can see some slices through the magnetic field with all of the little compass pointers on the plexiglass lining up. Plus we can see that the magnetic field changes shape with the two differently shaped magnets. You really get a sense of the 3-D shape of the field when the bar magnet is in the middle and the man spins the viewer.

Here is a 3-D magnetic field viewer by wbeaty that you can make yourself:

Easy peasy! Try not to touch the steel wool slivers that you cut off too much. Instead of picking them up with your fingers just cut them over a sheet paper and then pour them into the bottle down the crease of the paper folded in two. Also, rinse your fingers after working with the steel wool to avoid nasty metal slivers in your skin or eyes.

Experiment with your 3-D magnetic field viewer using one, two or more magnets. Try different shapes and types of magnets to see if and how the fields differ. Carry your viewer around the house and see if you can spot a hidden magnetic field. Then try to figure out what is causing it.

This video from KJMagneticsProducts is what happens when you stick a powerful magnet into magnetic paint:

That magnet is going to be hard to get clean again. That paint is wet, but the particles of iron pile up on each other in the shape of the lines and curves of the magnetic field until it looks solid. There are many videos on the internet showing ferrofluids, which are liquids that become strongly magnetized by a magnetic field. Ferrofluids display the beautiful geometries and movement of magnetic fields. We will revisit ferrofluids in a future post on OGLoA. Until then, go look them up. You won’t be sorry!

For the older kids, if you have an old-style computer monitor just lying around, research how it can be made into a magnetic field viewer. Get permission from your parents first!  Here is a great one featured in this video by YoungTesla:

Move over LavaLite, we’re going to make one for parties! YoungTesla has three magnet/computer monitor experiments on his YouTube channel and lots more. Check it out.

As promised here is more on magnets and magnetic fields from

Introduction to Magnetism

Khan Academy is a wonderful web site for self-study or to use as another source of information when you are stuck on a topic in your school work.

Joanne Loves Science

This is Joanne Manaster. She is a scientist who studies cell biology. She also likes to share her love of science with everyone especially kids. She does this through her website, Go check it out! There is so much fun science there including reviews about science books, science videos, and science web links.

Our favorite part of Joanne Manaster’s site is Gummi Bear Science. She has done a series of videos in her laboratory where she dramatically experiments on the protein and sugar in the Gummi bears.

If you can stomach watching cute, delicious, little Gummi bears get frozen, shrunken, shattered, bloated, decapitated, and pureed by sound waves you will learn a lot!

Our 11-y.o. editor-in-chief thinks the Gummi bear videos are radical. She has no pity. No heart.

Oh, the gummanity!!

Digested in a lab flask! What a waste!

If you are a sick puppy and want to see more Gummi murrderrr, Joanne Manaster has a couple of other videos here.