The Fun Side of Physics – 2 New Books!

Exciting news for young scientists! Simon & Schuster just published two children’s books I wrote for their new Science of Fun Stuff series.The Thrills and Chills of Amusement Parks and The Innings and Outs of Baseball. Both books are aimed at kids in Grades 1-4, and are filled with silly illustrations, and loads of fascinating facts.

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The Thrills and Chills of Amusement Parks helps kids understand the basic physics behind roller coasters, bumper cars, and “step-right-up” midway games. This book also presents the sweet, sweet chemistry behind cotton candy. (If you check out this link on Amazon, you can peek at the inside the first chapter.) To help readers grasp “the forces behind the fun,” I explain Isaac Newton’s famous laws of motion and ideas about gravity, and show how they relate to the sciences of “Ahhhhhh!” “Whoooa!” and “I think I’m going to be sick!” The last section features amusement park trivia and a quiz.


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The Innings and Outs of Baseball explores the physics of homeruns, curveballs, the “sweet spot” of a bat and more. Readers learn such cool facts as the ball’s stitches rub against the air as they hurl through it—which causes friction and helps it fight the pull of gravity. Why is this important? For one thing, if baseballs didn’t have stitches that cause air resistance, then hitting a homerun wouldn’t be possible! A chapter on baseball experiments describes how scientists study superstar hitters, and even created robots that can pitch and hit. The last section features information about the history of baseball and a quiz.


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Pudding It Together (apologies to Sondheim)

Happy New Year! My first resolution of 2012 is to blog more often. Back when I wrote a monthly parenting column for Sesame Workshop, I had a great excuse to capture all the amusing and precious details of my children’s lives, and my often humorous struggles as a parent. While an archive of these columns lives on elsewhere on this website, it’s time for some fresh material. I decided to share a fun story about making rice pudding with my daughter Olivia, now 7.

Yesterday, on the last day of vacation before she and Finian return to school, Olivia said she wanted to “do an experiment.” My wife and I know that this is code for “turning the kitchen into a tornado of ingredients.” Getting Olivia to try an actual recipe is sometimes tricky. She’d much rather mix random stuff from our cabinets and see what happens. I love the freeform cooking approach, but I want her to see that she’s capable of making some of her favorite dishes.

A few months ago, at a local diner, Olivia discovered that she LOVED rice pudding. So that seemed  worth a shot. I consulted a few recipes online, rejected one by Alton Brown (looked delicious, but required some esoteric ingredients, such as caradamom), and settled on one by the inimitable Ina Garten a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa a.k.a. the one who makes her husband Jeffrey melt at the mere mention of roast chicken. But I digress.. Here’s the recipe we used (minus the rum, which didn’t seem appropriate for Olivia)

She got a big kick measuring the rice, running her hands through the grains (“You washed them, right honey?”), and pour the whole quart of half-and-half into the measuring cup. I even threw in a little science prediction: “Do you think the measuring cup with overflow?” When it was gone, Olivia proudly sprinkled cinnamon on each dish and served it to our family. It was DELICIOUS! (And I just realized there are leftovers in the fridge, and I’m the only one home… Hmm.. the possibilities are endless.

I’d love to hear any great  stories you’d like to share about cooking with kids.

Have a wonderful 2012. I’ll write again soon. Promise!

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Ewww! Yaay! A New Bug Book for “Micro Maniacs”

After a long, hard winter, spring is finally in the air. And, if you live in Japan, so are swarms of Asian giant hornets! These lovely insects have a wingspan as large as three inches, and pack a super painful sting. One entomologist in Tokyo described the feeling of being stung by one of these guys as having a hot nail driven into his leg. These hellacious hornets are nicknamed “Yak-killer” in Asia because of their deadly neurotoxin.

But forgive my manners — you want a peek at this insect? — Here you go:

I learned about this interesting bug, and many more, while listening to an interview on NPR with Amy Stewart about her fascinating new book WICKED BUGS. The subtitle is pretty great, too: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects.

Ever since I wrote my kids science book MICRO MANIA, I’ve been stunned by the dazzling variety and quantity of creepy crawly critters in the world. (During the NPR interview, Amy Stewart shares this stunner: If all the insects in the world today were divided evenly among the human population, each of us would get about 200 million of ’em.) I can’t wait to read WICKED BUGS to learn more about such bizarre and icky creatures such as bat bugs. During mating, male bat bugs have an cruel behavior –rather than looking for a specific body part to inject their sperm into the female’s body, they stab her abdomen repeatedly, in order to deposit their sperm into her bloodstream. Almost makes those pesky bedbugs seem charming…

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