Tuesday 30 July 2013

Homemade Soapbar!

Many people love to play with soap bubbles. This is not only pin-pointed to children but literally, age doesn't seem to matter as everyone including adults love to play with bubbles too. Soap is defined as a cleaning agent for personal use and also for general cleaning. It is usually sold in cubics. Now, soap can be found in all sorts of varieties which differs in shape, colour and fragrance. Soap can also be in liquid or solid form. But have you ever thought of making soap?
Generally, soap contains a sodium compound or potassium and fatty acid. Soap can be produced through the reaction of sodium hydroxide and triglycerides at the temperature of 80 degrees Celcius to 100 degrees Celcius in a process known as saponification.

In Petrosains, one of the new activities developed is Homemade Soapbar. Making soap or saponification is one of the chapters in the Form 5 Chemistry syllabus. This activity is very popular and received a sounding good review from teachers and fellow colleagues in the team. The length of time taken for this workshop is a bit lengthy as soap needs to sit at least overnight to take its form.
Our science communicator is preparing the lye solution
The ingredients in the process of making soap are 20g of water, 9g of sodium hydroxide or lye, 10g of cocoa butter and 29g of lemon oil. Lye is a strong alkali which is highly soluble in water producing corrosive solutions. It is commonly the alternative name of sodium hydroxide (NaOH).
Preparing the lye solution
Double boiling technique
Firstly, prepare the lye solution in a well-ventilated area. Cool it off in cold water. Secondly, melt the cocoa butter using the double boil technique. Once all the butter has melted, cool it off by adding lemon oil. Third, measure the temperature for both the lye solution and the oils. When both temperatures are close within +5 degrees Celcius, add the lye solution to the oils. Fourth step is to whip the solution until the color turns milky. Then heat it up using the double boil technique. Continue to whip every 5 minutes for 20 minutes. Lastly, pour the solution into the mold and leave it overnight.
Saponification: fatty acid + (sodium hydroxide + water) = salt (soap) + glycerin
Students measuring the temperature for lye solution
Everytime we conduct the homemade soapbar activity with schools, participants were very happy with their soapbars and the teachers were impressed. They said that the workshop was exciting and challenging for their students.
This is not magic. It's Science! Now, anyone can make their own soapbar.

Shared by Zuridah Rais, Science Communicator at Petrosains.

Thursday 25 July 2013

Plant-based hues for dyes!

After living for umpteen years, I have never thought of identifying what is it that creates the vibrant colors that I see and adore every day. Generally, I thought that colours for dyes are only made from mixtures of three primary colors which are cyan, magenta and yellow.  But little did I know until my mother told me, that plants which include the tree, leaves, flowers and roots have hues that function as a source in making dyes including food colouring. The first thing that came to mind was the thought of mans cruelty to use such beauty as a colouring source.
Hey pretty!

But after sourcing for some information, it seemed that plants have been used to make dyes for decades. Here are some examples:
Let’s start with the famously known Henna tree which is also known as Pokok Inai in Malay. Henna is a very unique plant where all you have to do is just pound the leaves and you can obtain its intense natural reddish-orange hue. Because of that, Henna has been widely used as a dye for hair, skin and fingernails. You would have probably seen hair dyes in black and brown, but that isn’t the original color of the Henna plant. The natural and original Henna plant only produces reddish-orange hues. 
Scientific name: Lawsonia inermis (Henna)
Other than Henna, turmeric or kunyit in Malay, which is known as a cooking spice also acts as food dye, as the turmeric rhizome has a limitless natural yellow pigment ranging from bright yellow to deep orange, depending on the variety. It can just turn everything yellow! Some Malaysian dishes that use turmeric are chicken turmeric, yellow glutinous rice and gulai lemak.

Scientific name: Curcuma longo (Turmeric)

The third example is the Butterfly Pea plant, also known as Bunga Telang. This plant also contributes a purplish-blue hue for food dye. Try to guess which Malaysian food uses this plant as food dye. It’s Nasi Kerabu! I was actually so excited when I heard that Nasi Kerabu got its colour from a plant because I literally love to see the colour of the Nasi Kerabu and it is also one of my favourite dishes.
Scientific name: Clitoria flower (Butterfly Pea Plant)

It’s amazing how plants can be a source for dyes. In fact, there are many other plants which could also be used for food colouring. Some other examples are roselles, blueberries, pandan leaves and red dragon fruits. Taking natural plant-based food colouring is much healthier than consuming artificial colouring even though the bright colours may be appealing to your eyes. Plant-based hues also produce softer and more natural tones compared to artificial colouring. So, perhaps next time you can use plant-based hues to add colour to your homemade food; but keep in mind that not all plants can be used as food dye! Get recommendations from people or source for information on the internet to ensure that it is edible.

Shared by Ruby, Intern at Petrosains

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Petrosains Visits GHKL's Pediatric Ward

In conjunction with the holy month of Ramadan and the end of Petrosains’ Monsters University Count the Monsters Contest, staff of Petrosains paid a visit to the children warded at the Pediatric Institute of General Hospital Kuala Lumpur on 15 July 2013, in a bid to bring cheer to their day by giving away presents and spending time with them.
We were warmly greeted by Nurse Norhafizah bt Samian, Head Nurse and Dr. Norzilah Haji Mohamed Zainudin, Senior Pediatric Specialist of the Pediatric Institute, who gave us a short briefing on the history and background of the Pediatric Institute.
The children were given goody bags consisting of Monsters University’s soft toys and t-shirts, plus Petrosains’ ticket vouchers and items. The soft toys were used in the Monsters University Count the Monsters Contest, in conjunction with Disney’s Monsters University movie, which ran from 18 May until 30 June 2013 at Petrosains. The toys were pledged for charity before the contest and the children at the Pediatric Ward were chosen as the recipient.

The 80 celebrated children in the ward were seen enjoying their gifts, trying out their new t-shirts and playing with the soft toys while Petrosains staff mingled and talked to them while handing out the goody bags.
We were also taken around the Institute and discovered the ‘school for patients’ - a mini school located within the premises of the Pediatric Institute. The school was developed by GHKL in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Yayasan Nurul Yakin to facilitate learning for patients who are away from school for long periods of time undergoing treatment at the Institute.

Petrosains was incorporated to extend PETRONAS' commitment to the community in providing and nurturing meaningful informal science learning and scientific literacy.


Friday 19 July 2013

The Carnivorous Pitcher Plant


  Venus Fly Trap
The Venus fly trap has parts of the plant move to capture its prey. What about the pitcher plant?  There’s no major movement by the Venus fly trap actually - it just generate electrical charges when an object sits on it, triggering its ‘jaws’ to quickly shut.  The sneaky pitcher plant on the other hand uses its sweet smelling juice to lure its prey.  Once in the ‘belly’, the trapped prey is at the mercy of the acid that is secreted in it! 
Carnivorous Pitcher Plants
 The Pitcher Plant is actually a leaf that used to be harmless but due to its attempt to survive in unfavourable conditions, it evolved into its current form. The pitcher plants belong to two large families of monocots—the Nepenthaceae (Old World) and Sarraceniaceae (New World). The Old World pitchers live high above a tree. Because there is not much food source up there, the plant resorts to find an alternative source of nutrients.  It folds the ends of its leaves like a cup, produces sweet juices and waits for its victims.
Meanwhile the New World family members have more food source as it stays on ground. So
these pitchers actually form a whole pitcher out of its leaf.
What’s the difference between regular plants and the carnivourous pitcher plants?  Regular plants consume nutrients from the soil.  Carnivorous pitcher plants are found in nutrient-poor soil; hence they get their nutrition from insects they prey on.
Little explorers earnestly checking out the Pitcher Plant with the hand lens.

Pitcher plant discussion with Mr.Gary The Naturalist

This article is written in conjunction with Science Engagement Session by
Gary @ Khaeril Zach Abdullah (EDUTREE Services Sdn. Bhd) at
HotScience, Petrosains from 26-31 March 2013


Monday 15 July 2013

Jelajah Petrosains ke Pedalaman!

'Hidup Memerlukan Pengorbananan. Pengorbanan Memerlukan Perjuangan. Perjuangan Memerlukan Ketabahan. Ketabahan Memerlukan Keyakinan'. Inilah mutiara kata yang dipegang oleh setiap warga kerja Petrosains yang bergelar fasilitator sains kerana sanggup berkorban demi mendidik anak-anak bangsa kaum pribumi di Sabah dan Sarawak.  Siri jelajah ke kawasan pedalaman ini adalah program Petrosains-PETRONAS Science Educamp. Penjelajahan bermula dari tahun 2005 sehingga sekarang dan pastinya akan diteruskan pada masa akan datang.

Program Petrosains-PETRONAS Science Educamp ini dikhaskan untuk para pelajar di kawasan-kawasan pedalaman di negeri Sabah dan Sarawak. Di antara kawasan pedalaman yang pernah dijelajahi adalah di Mukah, Bario, Long Lama, Long Bedian, Long Napir dan banyak lagi.

Inilah gambaran perjalanan yang dilalui oleh fasilitator-fasilitator sains ke salah satu destinasi pedalaman mereka. Dari Kuala Lumpur terbang ke Sibu. Dari Sibu pergi ke Daro. Sekurang-kurangnya 3 jam lagi perjalanan menaiki pacuan empat roda di atas jalanraya yang tidak rata. Demi niat murni untuk berkongsi ilmu dengan masyarakat pribumi, perjalanan diteruskan lagi. Mereka terpaksa meredah dan menyeberangi sungai menaiki feri atau bot-bot kecil sebelum sampai ke destinasi. Namun begitu, pengisian program selama 4 hari 3 malam ini pastinya meninggalkan pelbagai kenangan manis dan pahit. Melalui program ini para pelajar dan guru-guru memperoleh manfaat daripada pembelajaran sains berasaskan 'hands-on'. Program ini selalunya boleh menampung penyertaan 100 orang pelajar sekolah rendah dan diiringi oleh 7 orang guru.
Mereka yang tinggal di kawasan pedalaman sering beranggapan sains itu sukar. Pendekatan pembelajaran melalui 'hands-on' mampu menarik minat para pelajar melalui aktiviti sains menggunakan bahan-bahan yang mudah diperolehi seperti botol plastik, kotak, penyedut minuman dan suratkhabar. Secara tidak langsung  ia juga dapat memberi idea baru kepada guru-guru untuk mengunakan bahan dan sumber yang terdapat di sekeliling di dalam bilik darjah. Dengan cara ini, ia mampu mewarnakan lagi teknik pengajaran dan pembelajaran di sekolah-sekolah. Sebagai contoh, aktiviti membina lampu suluh dengan menggunakan botol air terpakai di samping mempelajari konsep sains elektrik dan sekaligus melatih kemahiran saintifik termasuk menggalakan para pelajar untuk berfikiran kritis dan kreatif. Namun,cabaran utama ketika mengendalikan program adalah bahasa. Ini adalah kerana mereka menggunakan bahasa kaum mereka sendiri. Misalnya kaum iban bertutur dalam bahasa iban. Dengan pertolongan daripada guru-guru sebagai penterjemah bahasa, program ini mampu diteruskan.

Sudah semestinya pelbagai cabaran yang terpaksa diharungi ketika menjalankan tugas  ke kawasan-kawasan pedalaman ini. Namun, ia akan memberi rasa kepuasan apabila melihat sendiri anak-anak pribumi ini berjaya kelak. Pastinya memori indah terpahat pada kanak-kanak ini kerana mereka adalah di antara golongan yang jarang mendapat peluang untuk menonjolkan keupayaan mereka di mata dunia.

Kesan-kesan yang diperoleh melalui program ini tentunya positif. Guru-guru berkongsi maklumat  mengatakan bahawa para pelajar sudah mula meminati subjek sains. Ada yang dahulu seorang pendiam, kini sudah berani untuk mengangkat tangan di dalam bilik darjah untuk menjawab soalan. Menurut guru-guru juga,  program ini juga telah menunjukkan yang para pelajar sudah mula rajin untuk ke sekolah tanpa dipaksa. 

Sentiasa berterima kasih dengan apa yang kita ada pada hari ini kerana ada ramai lagi insan lain di luar sana yang masih berada dalam keadaan kekurangan. Pengalaman ke kawasan pedalaman ini juga sedikit sebanyak memberi iktibar kepada kita semua. Ia juga membuka mata kepada golongan yang lebih berkemampuan supaya sentiasa menghargai apa yang ada di depan mata. Petrosains dengan sokongan PETRONAS akan sentiasa menjalankan usaha-usaha ini untuk menyumbang balik kepada komuniti dalam bidang pendidikan dan pembelajaran tidak formal.

Posted by Ayu
Learning Specialist, Petrosains

Saturday 6 July 2013

Congak Competition at Petrosains

As you read the title, I believe some of you might have confused 'Congak' with 'Congkak', which are really two very different things but which I myself was confused with at the beginning. Congak is a Malay word which refers to the practice of 'mental mathematics'. Perhaps you might now be wondering what mental mathematics is, so let me help you clarify. Mental mathematics or mental math for short is the ability to do arithmetic calculations accurately without using any pen, paper, calculator, computer or any electronic devices. Basically you're counting 'in your mind' and don't be surprised but excellent mental math practitioners can solve fairly difficult problems very quickly. I met a ten year old kid who could answer the question of 1435x132 accurately in just a few seconds! 
I remembered growing up how popular mental mathematics was as a learning program and the concept was even advertised on television by many different companies. It used to be thought that being good at mental math afforded many other benefits and advantages to students. I myself tried to improve my mental math back then but these days, I find it much easier just to use a calculator and with almost everyone having a mobile phone, a calculator is always on hand.

Recently, Petrosains organised a Congak Competition as the centre celebrates all things mathematical. A total of 40 participants from Standards 4 & 5 from several schools took part in the Congak Competition. They were the ones who scored highest for the Congak Math quiz during Petrosains’ on-going thematic program, the Magical Math that involved 2525 students from 38 schools
The competition consists of a series of challenges, the first of which was called 'Calculate It'. Participants were challenged to solve 30 arithmetic questions with only 20 seconds alotted per question. Each of them was provided with an answer sheet for them to write the answers while the mathematical problems was splashed on screen.
Participants in deep focus as they attempt the first challenge.

The second challenge was a crowd favourite. If you love board games then I am sure you would love this too. The second challenge was presented in a board game format, and the game is called 'Math Magic Challenge'. The game is easy to learn but thrilling nonetheless requiring various skills such as good calculating skills, a sound strategy, and the ability to think fast!
A participant making a move on the board.

Think! Think!

For the third and final challenge, only five participants with the highest scores from the first two challenges took part. The final challenge was broken up into three parts, all variations of mental math activities requiring participants to solve given problems in increasing order of difficulty.

The judges for the day.

Supporters, teachers and parents watching the finalists on stage.

After the intense but exciting finals, the Congak Competition culminated with a big win by a student from SK Bandar Baru Sri Damansara (1)! The prize giving ceremony was inaugurated by the head of Majlis Guru Besar of the Petaling Zone, Selangor. For winners, keep up the good work and for those who didn't win, don't give up and keep trying. Mental Math is all about practice, practice, practice!

The first place winner!

Participants of the Congak Competition.

Shared by Ruby, Intern at Petrosains

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Bugs for Breakfast Anyone?

Malaysians are a passionate bunch when it comes to food. We take great pride in our cuisine and meals are always much-anticipated. From the cheap and plentiful to the celebratory and occasional treat, good food gets us going, excited, and happy beyond being just fuel for our body.

Nasi lemak 01a
By Takeaway (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons 

When it comes to food, Malaysians delight in national staples like nasi lemak or satay, rich laksa, roti and curries, steaming char kue tiao, crunchy pisang goreng, and kuih aplenty. The list is long and seemingly endless and in our towns and cities, we are spoilt for choice with stalls, caf├ęs and restaurants easily accessible and often open late into the night or even round the clock.

Our choice and preference for food is often influenced by geography, culture, and beliefs among other things. So it’s not surprising that what we like and enjoy may not be equally appreciated by tourists and visitors (just as not all Malaysians enjoy sashimi, spaghetti carbonara, or a tostada). Similarly, there are some food items that although common in other parts of the world (even as close as our neighbouring country Thailand), but may be viewed with disgust and revulsion if served here – such as a delicious plate of fried grasshoppers. 

Fried grasshoppers in Bangkok
By Thomas Schoch [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons 

The Practice of Eating Insects

We may be annoyed by ants, freaked out by cockroaches, and terrified of spiders but rarely if ever salivate over the idea of eating insects. The human consumption of insects as food is known as entomophagy and it is a fairly widespread practice in some cultures though in many others often uncommon or viewed with disgust. In a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations1, some interesting insect-eating facts emerge:
  • Around 2 billion people consume insects in some way
  • Humans consume over 1,900 different insect species
  • The most commonly consumed insects are beetles, followed by caterpillars.
  •  Insects are a highly nutritious and a healthy food source

Even though the benefits of entomophagy is quite established, will you consider insects for a meal as seen in this dish (below) of fried insects in Cambodia?

Fried insects for sale in Cambodia
By Steve Baragona [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

What are Insects?

If you’re still thinking about chowing down on some caterpillars, consider first what insects are. We often call all forms of creepy crawlies as insects though there is a specific definition to what an insect is. Examples of insects include beetles, flies, moths, and wasps – can you think of what they have in common?

Insect collage
By Bugboy52.40 (Derivative from images uploaded by Fir0002.) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons 

Here are some necessary features that all insects share:
  • Insects are invertebrates – they have no backbone.
  • Insects have an exoskeleton – a hard external covering which protects their body.
  • Insect bodies are made up of three segments – the head, the thorax, and the abdomen.
  • Insects have 3-pairs of jointed limbs.
  • Most insects have compound eyes and a pair of antennae.

Insects belong to a larger group of animals called arthropods. Other than insects, which are often differentiated by their bodies which have three segments and six legs, examples of arthropods include arachnids like spiders and scorpions, as well as crustaceans like crabs and lobsters. Centipedes and millipedes are also arthropods.

We already consume many kinds of arthropods such as crabs, shrimp, and lobsters. If you think of a spider as a 'land crab', or an insect as a variation of delicious 'seafood', does it make it more appetising? Also we consume many products made by insects, most famously honey which are made by bees.

Why Eating Insects May Be Important

The report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations1 offers three main reasons why we should consider eating insects:

  1. For health reasons as insects are healthy and nutritious, and are good replacements to current protein sources such as meat and fish.
  2. For the environment as rearing insects for food is less damaging to the planet than livestock like chicken because it requires less space, emit less greenhouse gases like methane, and requires less food to grow.
  3. For the economy as it provides new job opportunities as starting an insect-rearing ‘farm’ is much less expensive and less complicated than rearing livestock.

Consumption of other arthropods specifically arachnids like spiders (shown below) and scorpions too have the same benefits as eating insects. Arachnids are just not technically insects.

Skun spiders closeup
By A. www.viajar24h.com (http://flickr.com/photos/soschilds/375166267/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

We Are Already Eating ‘Insects’

Even with all the goodness of entomophagy established, most people will still not choose to eat insects whether due to personal, cultural, or religious reasons. However, what people don’t often know is that in most of the foods we already consume, there are already unavoidable but small quantities of insects whether in part or whole. The Defect Levels Handbook2 published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration presents a list of food items with natural or unavoidable ‘defects’, usually referring to the addition of unwanted objects such as insects, rodent filth, or mold.

Examples are:
  • Ground cinnamon: Average of 400 or more insect fragments per 50 gram2
  • Chocolate: Average is 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams2
  • Curry powder: Average of 100 or more insect fragments per 25 grams2
  • Canned mushrooms: Average of over 20 or more maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid2
  • Peanut butter: Average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams2
  • Ground pepper: Average of 475 or more insect fragments per 50 grams2
The food items however are still safe to eat, so don’t be worried!

So when you're out shopping for groceries in the future, don't be too surprised to see insects at the supermarket!

Posted by Daniel

1Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security - http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e00.htm