Saturday, October 18, 2008

In the pursuit of scientific knowledge

The Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast this morning could have been written by The Autumn Chamber of Seasonal Commerce. The promotional materials would write themselves: Crisp! Clear! Seasonally Temperate Temperatures! And, last but not least, Deep! Blue! Sky!

And I awoke with a cold. Stuffy head, watery chest & cough, and a deep feeling of malaise. Rats. Not that would have mattered, though, what with college football on the TV and, as I found out mid-morning, my assistance desperately needed for one of Egg's school projects. Accelerated biology. And me? I never even had regular biology back in the day. So, with an appropriate level of trepidation, I requested a review of the assignment. It turned out to be less accelerated than I had feared: create a 3D model of an animal cell, and a rudimentary drawing was provided for guidance.

I have a sordid history of assisting Egg in her projects. The first (and most memorable) was the Pine Box Derby car that we built together when she was 7 or 8 years old. We started with the basic kit; I'm not sure they even had the fancy pre-cut kits that they have today. The basic kit is pretty much just a block of wood, some nails, and four plastic wheels:

She wasn't really into cars or racing very much back then (but more than she is today), so I came up with the design plans. Unfortunately, just about any modification to the shape of the block was going to require the use of a power saw and I wasn't overly keen on the idea if turning her loose with a band saw. In the interest of good parenting, I did the sawing. Putting on the wheels also seemed a bit risky, both in the construction phase (let her use a hammer??) and in the ultimate performance of the racer. Straight wheels are fast wheels, I figured. The body needed to be sanded before painting and, well, she just wasn't strong enough. So what exactly did Egg do as part of the construction of the car? She painted it. I then sanded it, painted it, sanded it, and painted it again, of course, but she put on the first coat.

Came the day of the big race, and there we were at the registration desk. I was filling out paperwork (covenant not to sue, liability release, etc.) and Egg was rolling the car back and forth on the desk.

SO the lady behind the registration desk says, "Be careful Honey, you're going to break your Daddy's car."

Hurumph. At least the child wasn't standing there with a stump where her right hand used to be. I mean, I had to do some of it, didn't I? Really, what was she trying to say? That an eight year old couldn't have built this?

The weigh-in was next. I believe the weight limit was something like five ounces. Of course, Egg's car was much lighter - something less than three ounces if I remember correctly. "Yeah," I remember thinking, "lighter is better in flying and racing."

Then, The Race! We were up against the complete antithesis of our entry. This kid, whose father apparently wasn't quite as loving and devoted as Egg's, had taken the block of wood from the kit, spray painted it bright yellow, and written "School Bus" on it with a Sharpie marker. Sad, it was. Made me feel bad for his impending humiliation. I even thought about slipping him one of those Big Brother brochures, thinking that he must be some kind of orphan or something.

His yellow bus beat us by a country mile. Not. even. close. It turns out that you need to have your car's weight right up to the limit. Who knew? Well, besides the bus kid, who knew?

So, here we are a few years later, trying to figure out how to make a model of an animal cell. These days I act more in an R&D role whereby I provide a working prototype and let her do the rest. The first step is supply procurement, and for that we go to Egg's version of Harbor Freight: Hobby Lobby. We wandered the aisles for half an hour on a scavenger hunt for the most fiscally viable means of making the model. We looked at paints, fabrics, felts, wood chips, and Styrofoam, adopting and rejecting ideas as different and less costly alternatives were discovered. By the time we got home with the supplies, we had spent over $28. You can buy a model for $18.95. I guess you wouldn't get the full educational experience out of that, though. Here's the pile 'o stuff:

Even at her age, I still do the cutting. The smaller spheres that would be used for the nucleus were cut on Co-pilot Rick's band saw, and I cut the large sphere with a saw left over from the kayak build after first testing it on one of the left over smaller spheres:

It didn't take long to finish up the proof of concept:

Egg did the rest, and this time I have proof:

I think it turned out very well. But I still know nothing about biology!

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