Our connectedness to nature and what Christmas lights have to do with it

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is about reconnecting with nature giving the blog post new relevance today.

A tang of science

Image credit: M. Ehlers, pexels.com.

It has become a tradition for my fiancé and me to take a walk looking at the Christmas lights when we are at his family’s home in Derbyshire, England. This year it struck me that instead of Santas, angels, bells and stars, we saw a lot of lights showing scenes derived from nature.

There were glowing plastic deer and trees in almost every garden. Many had invested in projectors. This latest Christmas light fashion projects moving pictures of falling snowflakes onto your house, giving the impression of real snow falling. Other gardens had huge, inflatable polar bears and penguins.

I found these Christmas light choices interesting, because they seemed like an unconscious try to reconnect with nature. Right now, our Western societies are getting increasingly disconnected from nature. This means we spend less time outdoors, interact less with animals as well as plants and feel…

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Of Poinsettia and Gingerbread – Christmas Chemistry Experiments

A tang of science

Title image credit: Maurice Snook, ACS (2011).

Why not try some Christmas chemistry with your science and chemistry students during the last week before Christmas? The easy-to-do Christmas experiments in this article can be used to shake things up a little just before you break up for turkey roast and minced pie. With the instructions come suggestions about what previous knowledge can be discussed together with these experiments.

1 Orange Peel Flamethrower

This experiment is very easy and can be done by the students or as a demonstration. It is suitable for ages 11 to 16. It can even be done with or demonstrated to primary children if you trust them with candles.

All you need is a candle and some orange peel. First, you have to light the candle. Then fold your orange peel, the shiny, orange side should face the candle. As you squeeze the peel, oils from…

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Home Experiment: Fire Extinguisher

A tang of science

You will need

  • Tea light
  • Tea spoon
  • Small bowl
  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Match to light the candle

What to do

  1. Place the tea light in the middle of the bowl.
  2. Arrange the baking soda in the bowl around the tea light using the tea spoon.
  3. Light the tea light.
  4. Slowly add vinegar to the baking soda around the tea light. Be careful not to put the vinegar directly into the flame.
  5. Observe what happens to the candle.


When vinegar reacts with baking soda, the gas carbon dioxide is formed. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air and stays in the bowl. Carbon dioxide gas replaces the air with the oxygen needed for the tea light’s flame in the bowl. Finally, the non-flammable carbon dioxide gas smothers the flame.

You can watch this experiment as a video here:

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Iron Man’s Suit, Thor’s Hammer and Captain America’s Shield. – What are they made of?

A tang of science

Image credit: Shutterstock, 6 May 2019.

Iron Man’s Suit

You could say that Tony Stark was a bit under pressure when he developed his first Iron Man Suit, captured by terrorists and having suffered an injury by a shrapnel that is moving dangerously close to his heart. With the help of a fellow captive Stark builds a generator to power an electromagnet keeping the shrapnel from killin him as well as the very first Iron Man Suit that he uses to escape.

While this prototype suit was welded together from steel, and was therefore actually made from iron, Stark kept improving and developing his armours over time for different applications. This means that the Iron Suit materials changed over time.

Stark must have quickly replaced steel with a different material since it is a very heavy and rusts easily. The following armours were probably made from titanium since it…

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How to use our Mobile Devices more Sustainably

A tang of science

Image Credit: Yutaka Tsutano, US. CC by 2.0.

To most people mobile devices like smartphones are so much more than simple everyday objects. In personal messages, music, notes and calendars they basically contain our entire lives.

Despite the deep relationship to our smartphone, many do not hesitate to replace it with the newer model as soon as they get the chance. A report from 2016 suggests that in the UK smartphones are replaced by a newer version every two years.

Many people are not ware what the costs of this tech consumerism are. Smartphones, laptops and other consumer electronics contain up to 92 different elements and the origin of some is very problematic.

One example is the metal cobalt which is used in the lithium-ion batteries powering our devices. Cobalt normally comes from mines in African countries like the Democratic Republic of  Congo (DRC). Cobalt miners in these…

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Good News in the Time of Covid 19

Image: SapceX’s Falcon 9 reusable rocket with the Crew Dragon on top being transported to the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: NASA.

Last night 8.22 pm British time, me and my husband were glued to the TV excited like young school children. The reason? NASA and SpaceX were launching their new Crew Dragon space craft to take humans to the International Space Station (ISS) from US soil for the first time since 2011.

We watched amazed how the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off and separated successfully from the Crew Dragon. Afterwards the rocket flew back to Earth landing on a barge in the ocean. Instead of using the boring word ”barge”, SpaceX has come up with a much fancier word for this kind of vessel, ”autonomous space craft drone ship”. The maneuver looked like SpaceX was trying to flip a drinking straw getting it to stand up straight on a match box and it worked. Amazing!

While astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are still on their way to the ISS, many are celebrating this historic moment in space flight on Earth. The successful landing of a rocket to be reused after sending humans into space is a massive achievement and will potentially make space flight much cheaper in the future.

Not to talk about the fact that the US are finally able to send humans into space again. Since scraping the space shuttle program in 2011, US astronauts had to hitch rides in Russian Soyuz Capsules from Kazakhstan. Launching from their own soil again is an important step in NASA’s plans to put humans on Mars during the 2030s.

Why am I so excited about this? Why do I cheer for two American astronauts who get to go to space, when I will probably not even get to go on holiday this year nor see my family in Germany due to Covid 19 restrictions?

The reason is that this has shown me that despite all the problems the world is facing right now, we are still moving forward. Covid 19 has not stopped scientific progress. By still sending people into space we are following the deep human instinct of curiosity and exploration to push further and go where no one has been before. The Corona crisis has not taken this from us.

It has also given me hope, especially with the situations in the UK and US. International attention on the US lately has not exactly been flattering due to President Trump’s argument with Twitter about fact checking and the death of George Floyd, an African American killed by a brutal police force. The launch of the Crew Dragon has reminded me that there is still another America, one that is intelligent and innovative.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the last week in the UK has been dominated by ”Cummings-gate”, the scandal caused by Prime Minister Johnson’s senior advisor who thought he stood above the Corona lockdown rules, taking a trip across country to his parents and beauty spots. The British government handled this matter in the ugliest manner possible, showing how little they care about people’s feelings.

The launch of the Crew Dragon on the Falcon 9 rocket has ended this week of bad news in a very positive way, showing me that there are still good things happening in the world and that our societies are still moving forward. Most importantly, it reminded me that there are still hard-working people out there trying to build a better future.

How to make an atomic model with sweets

A tang of science

You will need:

  • String
  • Scissors
  • Coloured sweets, for example smarties or skittles

What to do:

  1. Choose three colours that you want to use in your atom. Once colour for the protons, one for the neutrons and one for the electrons.
  2. Cut some string to make the electron shell.
  3. Put the sweets that represent the protons and the neutrons in the middle. The middle of the atom is called the nucleus.
  4. Arrange the string in a circle around the nucleus. It will form the electron shell.
  5. Put the sweets that represent the electrons on the electron shell (string). Make sure that the amount of protons and electrons is the same.
  6. Your atomic model is now complete. If you wish you can label the atom and add the charges for protons, electrons and neutrons.

You can also watch the video for this activity on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5Kn6FjQdgw&t=1s

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What I learned from one day without waste

Last week I did an experiment. I collected all the waste I produced during one day. The result you can see in the image above. The following day I pledged to live trash free. This is how it went.

During my normal day I produced trash from the wrappings of my lunch and dinner. There is also the price tag of a top I had bought a week earlier and a small plastic bag I used to transport my tooth brush and tooth paste for a visit at the dentist. Finally, there are the packaging of a tea bag and of a post-workout protein bar. This does not seem much, but projected over a week, month or year, I am generating mountains of trash, wasting resources and energy in the process.

What followed was a day without trash. I pledged to not create waste for one day via the organization Live Zero Waste which helps people to live trash free. The day happened to be a holiday in Sweden, which was good in some aspects. For example, luckily, I was far away from the paper coffee mugs and tempting, wrapped lunch sandwiches sold by the university cafeteria.

In the morning, my only challenge was that I could not empty my milk carton to put milk into my coffee. So, I had it black and saved the milk for the day after. This option I would not have had if I had pledged for a week, month or year (which you can do also). But it still gave me an idea about how much trash I create from the packagings of milk, juices, cereals and so on.

In the afternoon, I was invited to a barbecue lunch with friends. I took my own camping plate, mug and cutlery with me to make sure I would not produce any waste from paper plates or plastic cutlery. The next problem was to find a small gift I could take for my friends who invited me. Normally, I love to buy chocolate for these occasions, but that would have meant indirecly creating waste from the packaging. I panicked for a while and eventually picked some maybell flowers that were blooming in the forrest behind our house and made a nice gift.

Then there was rugby practice in the evening. After splintering a bone in my left ring finger last year, I keep it taped during practice with sports tape. According to Live Zero Waste you are allowed to take medicine during your pledge despite of the packaging (and, yes, you are also allowed to use toilet paper). I decided that this applied for the tape too. Nevertheless, I realized that I must have created mountains of trash from tape during the past year. Finally, I had to switch my usual protein bar for a banana as a post-workout snack.

Now, why would you do all this? Living trash free is obviously quite a challenge.

The answer is climate change and the environment. For every kilogram of waste we throw away, seven more are created during the manufacturing process. Production, transport and packaging of everything we buy consumes resources, energy and produces carbon dioxide. When it comes to climate change, we sometimes tend to focus only on the impact of our travelling by car and plane. But the truth is that everything we buy from chocolate bar to car also has a great impact on climate change and the environment.

Waste is a representation of this impact. It also shows that besides taking the bike or the bus to work, there is much more every single one of us can do to fight climate change and protect the environment. Therefore, waste is also a representation of the choices we personally make to fight climate change and pollution. These issues are not only about what governments decide, but also about the personal choices everyone of us makes.

The good thing is that everyone can choose to create no or less waste. Basically, this means two things. 1) Buying less new stuff which I imagine is very hard for most of us including myself. 2) Avoiding packaged everyday items like food or toiletteries which makes life more challenging.

Everyone has to make their own decisions on if and how they want to reduce their waste. I can highly recommend to pledge one waste free day with Live Zero Waste to figure that out. The day has shown me very vividly which changes I can personally make for a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. It is really easy to pledge here and you will get mentors to help you.

This is what my waste free day has taught me. I have learned that homemade gifts or activity gifts are more environmentally friendly than bought ones. My goal is now to learn how to make my own chocolates to give away. Another change I want to make is to generally switch my post-workout protein bars for bananas and other fruit. Next, I am planning look into getting a reusable splint for my finger that I can use during rugby practice instead of tape. Finally, I also have decided to more often bring my own home-made lunch to work and to always take my own cup down to the cafeteria to get coffee. You can find even more tips by Live Zero Waste here. Good luck with you own challenge!