Adventures in Science

Posts tagged ‘microorganisms’


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.


Cary Huang’s enhanced Scale of the Universe…

Original Scale of the Universe


….is a parody and I was fooled and originally had a serious post on it. I should have known better than to post anything from a 4Chan link.

Cary Huang created an updated version and parody of the interactive “Scale of the Universe” flash animation.

More at

Clean your room the NASA JPL way


Did you see the launch of the Mars Curiosity Rover last week from NASA at Cape Kennedy, Florida? It was awesome!

Curiosity is an exciting and important robot because its job when it gets to Mars in 8 months is to look for life there. Scientists suspect that there is some very primitive form of life on Mars, but we need to send a probe with instruments and detectors built into it to test the martian environment for evidence of life.

Curiosity probably won’t find a baby plant like Wall-E does in the movie. If life is detected it’s more likely to be a type of tiny, microscopic life. That would be great because it would be the first time that people have discovered life anywhere other than Earth.

Here’s a video animation from NASA/JPL that shows us how Curiosity will travel from Earth to Mars and what Curiosity will be doing once it lands.

Yes! It will shoot laser beams at stuff on Mars.

One of the most important things you need to keep in mind if you are building a robot that will probe another planet for life, is that you don’t want to send any Earth life with your robot probe. If your rover arrives on Mars covered in Earth germs your life detectors are going to detect life, but possibly not martian life. Or perhaps the scientists would be scratching their heads when Curiosity discovered that along with unknown alien life, Mars also has athletes’ foot. Awkward…

To send a clean spacecraft to another planet you need to build it in a clean room like this:



The above picture was the Mars Curiosity Rover’s room on Earth at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. Your bedroom is a pig sty compared to Mars Curiosity Rover’s room. The interesting thing about this room is that it is cleaner than cleanest place you’ve probably ever been outside of a hospital operating room. Operating rooms and JPL’s clean room are designed to have fewer than 10,000 particles of 0.5 micrometers (microns) or more in diameter in the air. Microscopic life bigger than 0.5 microns are yeast, mold, most bacteria, spores and pollen.

Hey, wait! People are bigger than 0.5 microns! They are covered cooties! How can we prevent the people working in the clean room from contaminating the spacecraft? Here’s how. Before it traveled to Florida in preparation for launch to Mars, you used to be able to watch the clean room engineers and technicians build Curiosity on the internet via a webcam. However, Curiosity is traveling to Mars at the moment so Curiosity Cam is off air. Fortunately, we have a video of JPL clean room technicians in action:

You can’t miss that the technicians are completely covered in white clean room suits. These are also known as bunny suits.

We wish they came with the


The clean room suits including masks, gloves, smocks, pants, and booties are designed to keep human cooties, hair, skin cells, or whatever off the spacecraft. There are many more videos showing the assembly of Curiosity at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory clean room at YouTube. Check them out.

This NASA video from a different project shows how even pieces of paper must be wiped down front and back before they can enter a clean room, or in this case, a clean tent:

Now, think about how you would get your room clean enough to make a robot for space in there.

Don’t forget the bunny suit.


Dr. Penelope Boston

This is Dr. Penelope Boston. She studies caves, how caves form, and what kinds of life forms live in caves.


In order to study caves, Dr. Boston needs to visit and explore them and do field research.

Field research!

What she has learned from her cave studies is that life forms can survive in unusual places. Some of the caves that she visits are completely dark and have poisonous fumes. Most plants and animals could not survive in such extreme environments. She needs to wear special safety gear to protect her skin and eyes and wear a mask with oxygen to breathe. In spite of these harsh conditions, the work of Dr. Boston and others has shown that there are lots of  living things in these weird, dangerous, and unearth-like places. Most of these living things, or microorganisms, are too small to see with just our eyes. These cave dwellers are so freaky and fascinating that they are going to get their own post.

(Link to The Mars Society source of photo above)

In this video Dr. Boston tells us what inspired her to become a cave-exploring scientist:

How cool is that? Studying how life forms evolve in harsh conditions on Earth can help us think about what kind of life we may discover on other planets! The branch of biology (the study of living things) that investigates the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe is called astrobiology. Here is a great set of links to explore astrobiology.

The following video might be challenging and is recommended for teenagers. It is important to include here because Dr. Boston describes what she does and gives us an insight into her wonderful personality and delight in her field of scientific inquiry. Enjoy!


Germs are a common word that people use to describe tiny living things, too small to see, that can make us sick. These tiny living things are made up of two types: bacteria and viruses. A more scientific name for life forms that can make us sick is the word pathogen.
Did you get strep throat this winter? A lot of people did. But what caused so many people to get sick? Strep throat is caused by a tiny living thing that in great numbers can invade our bodies. When they multiply and take over we get sick. Below is a set of four pictures of tiny bacteria or viruses–types of pathogens–that can make us sick. Can you figure out which of these germs cause strep throat?

Yep. It’s the Streptococcus bacteria. There are many types of Streptococcus bacteria. The most common one that causes strep throat is called Streptococcus pyrogenes.

Viruses are much smaller than bacteria. So small that scientists must use special microscopes to get pictures of them. Can you figure out which of the pictures above are of viruses? If you picked the adenovirus and the norovirus, you are correct. Those pictures are in black and white and are somewhat fuzzy because it is so difficult to get images of such small things.

Below is a fun video about germs with advice on how to avoid spreading them and avoid getting sick.

Fortunately, for most of us, our bodies have strong defenses that fight off invasions of germs. This video shows how that works.

Hand washing should also be added to the list of ways to help your immune system.

This video shows us how our immune system works too. It’s better because it was made by 11-year-old, Harrison Harris.

*If you live in a country with good medical care, you have probably never met anyone who has had diptheria. That is because there is a shot given to babies, with later booster shots, that prevents someone from getting the disease altogether.