Fun with Science for the Holidays: An “Actor’s” Perspective

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to be a part of “Once Upon a Christmas Cheery in the Lab of Shakhashiri”. Bassam Z. Shakhashiri is a professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who is well-known for his fun science demonstrations and a fervent dedication to public science communication. Once Upon a Christmas Cheery started in 1970 as an end-of-semester treat for Dr. Shakhashiri’s freshman chemistry class; by 1973, the Christmas lecture had become so popular that Wisconsin Public Television offered to broadcast it during Christmas week, and this collaboration has continued uninterrupted ever since.

That’s 49 years of Christmas lectures, commemorated by making indium, the 49th element, the Sesame Street-esque “sponsor” of the show. It helps that indium burns bright violet, the name of Dr. Shakhashiri’s granddaughter and hence his favorite color. The color purple made a firm foundation for many aspects of the show: The chrysanthemums frozen in liquid nitrogen were purple, as was the balloon I inflated during my spiel on air movement. Most of the set was various shades of purple, too.

Bassam Shakhashiri and J. Nepper on the set of Once Upon a Christmas Cheery
The set was whimsical and very purple. Photo by Eric Baillies.

Continue reading “Fun with Science for the Holidays: An “Actor’s” Perspective”

My Favorite Things about Madison in the Summer

Cave of the Mounds National Landmark in Wisconsin
Cave of the Mounds National Landmark in Wisconsin

So, summer is here. Wisconsin in the summer (minus the mosquitos) is the best. So much to do! I find that if I don’t make a list of the places I want to go or the things I want to do, it all of a sudden it’s September and summer is gone. As someone that has lived in Madison for a majority of my life, these are the things that I love to do in the summer.

  1. Get to the Farmer’s Market! We have an unbelievable market here. Seriously. I lived in Colorado for a couple of years, and you wouldn’t believe the amount of people that would comment on our market when I told them where I was from.
  2. Boat on Lake Mendota. And get out the water skis. While you’re out there, ride on over to Nau-Ti-Gal or Mariners and have some dinner.
  3. Go to Summerfest. (It’s in Milwaukee, but worth the short drive.) Multiple times if you can. You definitely don’t have to go to the main stage for a concert; it’s just as fun to go in and listen to the side stages.
  4. Run or walk Crazy Legs. Either way, it’s a blast. I know – this is in the Spring, but whenever it’s here, I know summer is right around the corner! You can take the kids with strollers/wagons on the walk if you want, and it’s a fun way to get the family involved.
  5. Concerts on the Square. Picnic with some delicious food, wine and a little classical music? Yes, please.
  6. Cave of the Mounds. It’s pretty fun for kids and adults, and it’s nice and cool when it’s super hot out, and it’s 50 degrees in there.
  7. Go to the zoo! It’s free, and pretty cool.
  8. Sit out on the Memorial Union terrace. Relax and listen to music on the weekend. Or bring the family and get some Babcock ice cream and feed the ducks.
  9. Go out to the local weekend fairs and festivals. You can keep yourself busy every weekend.
  10. Brewer game!  (Again Milwaukee, but again worth the short drive.) Miller Park is fun as an adult, or you can bring the kiddos as well.

So, that’s my list. What’s your favorite thing to do in Madison in the summer? Or, if you are a former Madison resident, what is your favorite summer memory?

If you hail from parts distant, what is your favorite thing to do where you live? We are always looking for vacation and travel ideas.

How to Make Plastic Out of Milk

As the daughter of a (former) dairy farmer, I love milk and all its derived dairy products (e.g., cheese and butter). However, it wasn’t until my colleague Michele highlighted a kid science app that I realized milk is a great science medium as well. In fact, I recently discovered mixing vinegar with milk will create moldable plastic. Not only is this milk-derived product fun for kids and adults, but it also offers a history lesson: the resulting substance was used before petroleum-based plastic was available. Watch the video to learn about a fun kitchen experiment and potential handmade gift opportunity all in one package.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFvik_THcNQ]

Spring Fever Friday Fun: Bubbles

On March 2, 2012 we were dealing with 8 inches of snow around here. Today the Chorus Frogs are calling, the red-winged black birds are staking out their territory, and the finches and robins are fighting over last year’s nests. People are biking to work; kids have shed their snow pants and boots. The high today for Southern Wisconsin? A balmy 77°F. Perfect for playing with bubbles. Spring has sprung. Actually, it feels a little like summer, and all of us here at Promega Connections are suffering from spring fever. So to celebrate here’s a video about bubblology, with a bubble recipe and instructions for making an awesome bubble rod. Have fun!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9ASVgO9U6k&w=560&h=315]

Paying it Forward: A Promega Employee’s Experience with the Dane County Humane Society

cats_cats_catsPromega employees earn their living researching, marketing, manufacturing, writing, teaching, shipping, and designing. What do they do when they are off the clock? For the next few months, I will post interviews with my coworkers describing how they give back to their communities in their spare time. This month, Nadine Nassif describes her work with the Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) and their groundbreaking ringworm treatment. The photo on the left shows Nadine keeping some cats company during a DCHS event.

How long have you worked here at Promega and what do you do?

I joined Promega in November 1997, so just over 13 years. I’m a research scientist in the Genetic Analysis group.
(Author’s note: Nadine develops kits that are used by researchers for purifying DNA and studying gene expression.)

What do you do at DCHS?

Most of the work I do with Dane County Humane Society involves the cat population.  Specifically:

  • Cleaning cages and feeding the cats.
  • Socializing cats; in particular, the ones that are shy or scared or over-stimulated, the ones that need the extra attention in order to acclimate to the busy shelter environment and find a home.
  • Shooting and editing YouTube videos for the shelter; some of the videos spotlight various cats and dogs that are available for adoption, while some highlight various programs that the shelter is trying to promote.
  • Fostering cats in my home, often kittens that are too small to be available for adoption; I raise them until they’re about 9 weeks old, at which point they can be neutered and are sent back to the shelter to find new homes.

Continue reading “Paying it Forward: A Promega Employee’s Experience with the Dane County Humane Society”

Introducing the new Promega.com

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011. Today there is palpable excitement in the air.  It’s 6:20am and other than the web team, the Promega campus is quietly slumbering.  It’s a sunny, crisp spring day; a day for blossoms and new beginnings.

Donuts
Fuel for the day.

My friends and colleagues are slowly rolling into work, bringing enough food to feed a small army.   The table in the middle of our floor is filled with donuts, egg casseroles, potato dishes, fruit salad, coffee cake, and 6 lbs of bacon.  This is not a day to diet.

Today, we are rolling out the brand new Promega.com.  It is the end of an 18-month project and the beginning of a new digital platform for our company.  This project, for me personally, has been an epic journey.   There are many metaphors that have passed through my head to describe the process:  having a baby, finishing graduate school (although at times high school was a more appropriate analogy), planning a wedding and getting married….whatever the comparison, it is a major milestone. Continue reading “Introducing the new Promega.com”

The Fun Theory

Who out there likes to have fun? Probably the majority of us would enthusiastically raise our hands to this question. And the couple of you who didn’t, well, you’re totally not invited to my next party. Fun is one of those no-brainer things. Fun is always welcome. I adore fun and invite it over for coffee cake at every opportunity, but I’d never really thought about fun as a behavior modification tool until I followed the link in a tweet recently posted by a brand new coworker (welcome to Promega, Jason!):

@konen's tweet about "fun stairs"

Stairs? Fun? I take the stairs all the time, but wouldn’t characterize them as fun. More like “good for me” or “penance for those chips I ate last night.” But I hit the link and watched the video and was almost pouting by the end because those stairs? Those stairs in the Odenplan subway station in Stockholm? I want to go climb those stairs RIGHT NOW. Hold me back, I may start shopping for a plane ticket. Continue reading “The Fun Theory”

Top Ten Uses for Pumpkin

In honor of Halloween, here is a Top Ten Uses of Pumpkin list for your enjoyment:

10. Means of transportation on the high seas or emergency flotation device (pumpkin boats; see the video).

9. Elementary Math Lessons. Determine circumference and radius. How much does a pumpkin weigh? Estimate the number of seeds. Check out pumpkin math ideas here.

8. Cholesterol-lowering snack. After ruthlessly scooping out the innards of a pumpkin, clean the seeds, bake them in the oven and enjoy your healthy snack. Pumpkin seeds contain phytosterols, compounds that that have been shown to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol, as well as magnesium, a mineral needed in the diet.

7. Physics Laboratory. Pumpkin Chuckin’ Contest (video). Continue reading “Top Ten Uses for Pumpkin”