by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation
What do you think the qualifications to be a scientist are? A PhD? A labcoat? Awesome Einstein-like hair? What about age?
Most scientists are adults, it’s true. But there’s no reason that anyone, kids included, can’t use the scientific method to ask questions, make observations, design experiments and gather results. Two recent stories in the news show us just how fantastic kids are at being scientists.
Kathryn Gray Discovers a Supernova
On Sunday, January 2, 2011 (three days ago!), 10-year-old Kathryn Grey discovered Supernova 2010lt.
Kathryn was examining photographs of the galaxy UGC 3378
taken on December 31, 2010. Comparing photographs of the galaxy taken at different times, Kathryn noticed a bright spot that was present in the newer picture that was absent from the older picture (go here to see the images). That bright spot? A supernova.
A supernova is a star that’s blowing up. When a star dies in supernova, an incredible amount of energy is released. So much light and radiation can emit from a supernova that the star becomes brighter than the rest of the galaxy it’s in. With something that bright happening in the sky, you might think finding a supernova is pretty easy. It’s not. First, supernovae are rare. In a galaxy the size of our Milky Way, a supernova happens about once every 50 years. Second, the universe is the biggest thing there is. That’s a lot of sky to take pictures of and a lot of pictures to look through. Less than 2,000 supernovae have ever been officially discovered, and Kathryn’s hard work and sharp eyes make her the youngest person to ever find one.
Primary School Students Publish a Scientific Paper on Bees
Did you know that buff-tailed bumblebees are able to solve color and pattern puzzles? No? Well, neither did anyone else…until a group of 8-10 year old students figured it out.
Students from Blackawton Primary School in Devon, England, are now the youngest scientists to have their work published in the peer-reviewed journal Biology Letters with their new paper, “Blackawton Bees.”
The paper, which looks at the ability of bees to find food using visual cues and concludes,
…bumblebees can use a combination of colour and spatial relationships in deciding which colour of flower to forage from…
is based on a question the students developed themselves, is written in their voices (included the Methods section titled: “The Puzzle…duh duh duuuhhh”), and includes diagrams the children drew (read the full paper here).
The scientists who reviewed the students’ paper say that their finding is unique, and the data they presented is compelling. And while one referee was quoted as saying they thought “the kids couldn’t do it,” the students’ results have proved them wrong.
So if you’re a kid, how can you become a scientist?
- Find questions about the world that interest you
- Figure out how to make solving those questions fun. Can it be a game? a puzzle?
- Don’t feel frustrated about things you don’t know – be excited at the change to learn something new
- Find adults to help you if you need it. Kathryn Grey and the students at Blackawton didn’t work alone – they had adults there to help them learn how to use equipment, design experiments, and just be an extra brain or two if they got stuck.
And if you want to experience another example of fantastic kid-lead scientific discovery? Stop by the museum and try out our Parasaurolophus cranial crest interactive.
For years paleontologists debated the role of Parasaurolophus’s cranial crest. They thought it had worked like a snorkel, a weapon, a way to tell males and females apart, and a tool for temperature regulation. Then, 14-year-old Della Drury came along. Della hypothesized that the space inside the crest worked as a resonating chamber, amplifying the sounds the dinosaurs made to make communication easier. Della tested the idea for her 9th grade science fair project, and her results support the hypothesis. Today, paleontologists think that the Parasaurolophus’ crests may have served multiple functions, but a resonating chamber may very well have been one of them. So stop by the museum and blow into the cranial crest – can you call out like a dinosaur?