STEM@Home: Mildred Dresselhaus, the Queen of Carbon

Mildred S. Dresselhaus holding a model of a carbon nanotube. Credit: Ed Quinn
Mildred S. Dresselhaus holding a model of a carbon nanotube. Credit: Ed Quinn.

Quantum theory, semi-conductors, and buckyballs – Mildred Dresselhaus, the Queen of Carbon, mastered them all. Dr. Dresselhaus used the most commonplace of materials – graphite, a form of carbon – to expand our understanding in materials science, physics, and engineering. Join ExploreHope as we celebrate Women’s History Month and be inspired by the many ground-breaking women in science!

The Life and Times of the Queen of Carbon

Mildred Dresselhaus was the child of immigrants and an early violin prodigy. Although her family was poor, Mildred earned a spot at an academically rigorous high school in New York City. There, a physics teacher and future Nobel laureate, Roslyn Yalow, helped Mildred discover a passion for science. After high schol, she earned degrees at Cambridge, Radcliffe, and the University of Chicago, before landing at MIT to begin her career.

Dr. Dresselhaus spent decades exploring the properties of graphite and graphene. She uncovered carbon’s electronic band structure, co-discovered new forms of graphene called fullerenes (or buckyballs), and demonstrated that these materials could be used as metals or semiconductors. Her work not only added knowledge to several scientific fields, but updated the equations quantum theorists used in further discoveries. Now that’s making an impact!

Because of her work, Dr. Dresselhaus became the first tenured woman faculty member at MIT as well as the first woman to receive the National Medal of Science in engineering, along with many other awards and honors. Learn more about Dr. Dresselhaus here.

Princess of Carbon: You!

Feeling inspired? Follow in Dr. Dresselhaus’ footsteps and explore the nature of carbon yourself! Dr. Dresselhaus made ground-breaking discoveries about graphite, a form of carbon. With a few simple materials, you can observe graphite’s electronic properties with a few simple materials:

  • A 9V battery
  • An LED light bulb
  • A graphite pencil (art pencils will work better than regular school pencils)
  • Tape
  • Paper.

Sketch a circuit with the graphite pencil, and you’ll create graphene – a thin layer of carbon atoms that can conduct electricity. Head over to KiwiCo to find out more!

Register Now for Hope Summer Science Camps!

Love exploring our world, inside and out? Do we have a summer camp for you! Hope Summer Science Camps has over 20 years of experience giving kids the hands-on science explorations of your dreams. Check out the Science Camps page on our website for safety updates, camp schedule, and registration links. We are excited to see you this summer!

STEM@Home: Soybean Savant Dr. Percy Julian

Dr. Percy Julian in his lab. Credit: From the collection of The Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest

Imagine driving down a country road on a hot summer day, gazing out at fields of green, two-foot-tall plants. Chances are you’re enjoying the sight of a field of soybeans, one of Michigan’s top three crops. Did you ever wonder why farmers grow so much soy? Sure, tofu and soy milk are common foods but scientists have discovered soybeans can be used for “soy” much more.

Chemical Pioneer Percy Julian

One of those experimenting chemists was a Black American named Percy Julian. The grandson of former slaves, he simultaneously took his high school and college classes when he was studying at De Pauw University. Percy Julian earned his master’s degree in chemistry from Harvard but the university did not allow him to continue studying for his doctorate, leading him to earn his PhD from the University of Vienna in 1931.

In 1935, Dr. Julian attained world-wide recognition with his synthesis of physostygmine, but universities refused to make him a full professor and many chemical engineering firms would not hire him because of his race. Based on his discoveries, and to avoid the rampant discrimination he faced in the business and scientific world, he founded his own company to produce his products – and became one of America’s first Black millionaires.

Dr. Julian overcame great discrimination to become appointed to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and for his synthesis of physostygmine to be named one of the 25 Top Achievements in American Chemistry.


Physostygmine is a chemical that can treat glaucoma, an eye disease, and Dr. Julian discovered a way to use the calabar bean to produce this crucial medicine. Dr. Julian went on to use his chemical expertise to invent numerous medicines and safety products from the easy-to-grow soybean, improving and saving untold lives.

Learn more about Dr. Percy Julian, Black scientist and pioneer!

Inspired by Dr. Julian? Make your own discoveries at home!

Based on the discoveries of scientists like Percy Julian, there are tons of ways to explore the flexible chemical properties of the useful soybean at home. Make your own soybean discoveries in the comfort of your own kitchen!

Research Chemistry, Soybean-style

Before inventing new products, scientists explore and learn about the materials around them. For this simple experiement, all you need is a blender and some soybeans (dried or fresh).

Whizz up the soybeans, smoothie-style, pour into a clear glass, and let sit overnight. In the morning, examine the layers that have formed. What do you think they are made of? Hint: touch the top layer and wipe off on a paper napkin. That’s right – it’s soy oil! Soybeans are very high in fat for beans, making them a great plant-based source of oil (more on the usefulness of oil in the next experiment).

Once you’ve studied the layers, heat up a mug of water until boiling. Carefully pour the soy mixture into the hot water. What happens to your mixture? If you stir it, you might see some lumps appear. The proteins from the soybean have clumped together when they were heated up, similar to the process for making tofu. Soybeans are also very high in proteins, making them also a great plant-based source of protein for people and animals!

Invent the World with Soybeans

Remember the high oil content in soybeans? One of the most transformative materials of the last hundred years is plastic – and plastic is mostly made of oil. Imagine all the ways we use plastic today – packaging, medical supplies, food safety, and so much more. We can use renewable, plant-based soybean oil as the basis of these critical materials!

To make your own soy-based plastic, you’ll need a few household ingredients:

How to Make Your Own Bioplastic, courtesy of

Place 1 tablespoon of cornstarch into the plastic bag. (Figure 1)

Add 2 drops of soybean oil. (Figure 2)

Add 1 tablespoon of water. (Figure 3)

Close the bag and knead it with fingers, mixing the contents. (Figure 4)

Add 2 drops of food coloring. (Figure 5)

Seal the bag and mix remaining contents.

Open the bag slightly so it can vent.

Weigh the contents of the bag on a kitchen scale. (Figure 6)

Heat the bag in the microwave for 20-25 seconds. (Figure 7)

Remove the bag from the microwave and let the plastic cool. Caution: The bag and contents will be hot!

Weigh the contents of the bag again. (Figure 8) Compare the weight measurements from before and after microwaving. Did the ingredients transform into a chemically new material, or was it simply a physical mixture? Tip: if the before and after weights are different, that means a chemical change has occurred!

Once your bioplastic has cooled down a bit, see if you can mold it! How can you use your bioplastic to improve your life? How could scientists and businesses use this bioplastic technique to solve everyday problems and even change the world?

Register Now for Hope Summer Science Camps!

Love exploring our world, inside and out? Do we have a summer camp for you! Hope Summer Science Camps has over 20 years of experience giving kids the hands-on science explorations of your dreams. Check out the Science Camps page on our website for safety updates, camp schedule, and registration links. We are excited to see you this summer!

All-Around Science Star: Dr. Mae Jemison

NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever dreamed of visiting outer space? Mae Jemison did. As a young girl, she read science fiction and dreamed of shooting to the stars herself. And in 1992, she did! When she launched into orbit, Dr. Mae Jemison was a physician, an engineer, and the first Black woman astronaut in NASA’s program.

February is Black History month and ExploreHope is excited to celebrate the Black scientists who have made history. Plus, we’ll inspire you to explore the science that lit up these science pioneers!

NASA’s Johnson Space Center Astronaut Friday series gives more info about Dr. Jemison and her research work aboard the International Space Station. As a physician, she was especially interested in zero-gravity effects on the human body. She performed many experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness, in addition to supervising the over 40 science experiments on board the space station.

Gravity is a Drag

You probably know that gravity is the force that keeps us grounded safely on Earth instead of floating off into space. But did you know that gravity can change based on how big the planet is, and how close you are to it? That’s why astronauts can bounce around on the moon – the much smaller moon has an equivalently smaller gravitational force. Boing, boing, boing!

When there’s not a huge planet exerting gravitational force, people and objects float around, not pulled in any one direction (like down). But gravity isn’t the only force! The force of magnetism is just as strong in outer space as on Earth’s surface. In space, the force of magnetism is actually much stronger than the weak or non-existence force of gravity!

What about on our planet? Is magnetism stronger than the force of gravity on the surface of Earth? With a few simple materials, you can be the researcher and conduct your own anti-gravity experiment!

Time to Defy Gravity!

We defy gravity all the time! Have you ever jumped up high, or kicked a soccer ball into a net, or lost a frisbee in the trees? You created a force that let your body, soccer ball, or frisbee resist the force of gravity and move away from the ground instead of toward it.

Now grab a few household materials and investigate whether the force of magnetism is stronger than Earth’s gravity. You’ll need a cardboard box, cardboard, a strong magnet, paperclip, and a string – plus some crayons or markers to decorate it! Head over to Science Sparks “How to Defy Gravity” for directions on making a paper bug fly – or a paper rocket launch!

Hope Summer Science Camps are Registering Now!

Love exploring our world, inside and out? Do we have a summer camp for you! Hope Summer Science Camps has over 20 years of experience giving kids the hands-on science explorations of your dreams. Check out the Science Camps page on our website for safety updates, camp schedule, and registration links. We are excited to see you this summer!

STEM@Home: Panda-Monium

Baby giant panda Xiao Qi Ji at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Image credit: Smithsonian National Zoo.

Pandas. Are. The. Cutest! Giant pandas? Cute. Red pandas? Cute. Pandas eating bamboo? Cute! Baby pandas? That’s break-the-internet cute. Good news for your cute-o-meter – and bad news for the ‘net – the Smithsonian National Zoo is hosting a live panda event featuring their itt-bitty baby giant panda, Xiao Qi Ji!

Meet Xiao Qi Ji!

Tune in at 1:00 on January 27th for a free livestream event from Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Don’t worry if you miss it – a recording of the event will be available afterwards on the website!

Xiao Qi Ji is about four and a half months old, and like all curious babies, loves to explore. Check out the #PandaStory blog for stories about his favorite toys and videos of Xiao Qi Ji in action. Play is the name of the game for this happy baby! Exploring his surroundings, wrestling with mom, and tumbling about with toys keeps baby Xiao Qi Ji busy.

Learn Like a Baby Panda

Like babies everywhere, play gets them ready to learn skills crucial for their adult lives. One important skill for pandas is using scent to identify different individuals and mark their territory. Although giant pandas have poor eyesight, their acute sense of smell helps them move confidently through their environments. Xiao Qi Ji’s parent pandas love one scent in particular – a spicy-sweet smell called clove. Sound familiar?

Cloves are used in many holiday recipes, from gingerbread to baked hams. You might also taste it in apple pies, festive punch, or chai tea. Mmm! Just thinking about cloves gets us hungry – no wonder the pandas love it! Get your sniffer ready and try these activities designed to help you develop your sense of smell – just like baby pandas do.

Panda Scent Detective

Head over to KC Edventures and get ready to challenge your senses. First, you’ll stretch your powers of observation by setting up a “white tray” of five common, white-colored powders. Pretend you’re a panda with poor vision. Can you tell these substances apart with your just senses of smell, hearing, taste, and touch?

Honed your sense-skills? Time for Challenge #2! Most grocery stores carry a wide variety of ground brown spices that might all look alike, but taste and smell very different from each other. You might even have most of them in your kitchen’s spice drawer already!

Gather cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg and cover their labels. Practice identifying them using just your sense of smell. Try dipping apple slices lightly in the spices and comparing the flavors. Do you have a favorite, like the giant pandas? Let us know! Follow ExploreHope on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to never miss a post.

Love exploring our world, inside and out? Do we have a summer camp for you! Hope Summer Science Camps has over 20 years of experience giving kids the hands-on science explorations of your dreams. Check out the Science Camps page on our website for safety updates, camp schedule, and registration links. We are excited to see you this summer!

STEM@home: Crazy Constellations

Orion, Head to Toe. Rogelio Bernal Andreo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re like most STEM@Home-rs, you’ve always wanted to learn more about astronomy but you just haven’t “star”-ted yet. Do you need special equipment, items, “or-bits”? Worried it’s too big of a “comet”-ment? Well, don’t just”plan-et,” any longer! Winter is the best time in West Michigan to geek out over the night sky. Visit the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s blog, Keeping It Curious, to find out why!

Not only does West Michigan host an incredible year-round astronomy resource, the GRPM Chaffee Planetarium, winter in Michigan is actually a great time to check out some famous constellations. The Winter Stargazing post from the museum’s blog lays out the top three benefits to constellation-hunting in the winter.

  1. Cold winter air is less humid – leading to a beautifully clear view.
  2. Stars are easier to see at night, and sunset is earlier in winter.
  3. As a planet moving through SPAAAAACE, the northern hemisphere in winter faces a part of the galaxy with very bright stars – like Orion’s Belt!

Hey, those museum folks are very persuasive! Let’s bundle up and head outside to spot some of space’s greatest hits, including the Great Orion Nebula, Sirius, and the Pleides Star Cluster.

The best and brightest of Michigan’s winter sky are known as the Winter Circle, and Greek and Roman mythology buffs are going to recognize plenty of familiar names. Some scholars believe that these groups of stars, or constellations, inspired the classic myths of heroes, warriors, and fantastic creatures. Imagine storytelling with the sky instead of a book!

Ready to start your own story? Look to the southeast after dark and find three bright stars in a row – those are called Orion’s Belt. Spot a blurry patch underneath Orion’s Belt? Don’t clean your glasses – you’re spotting a star nursery, or nebula, over 1,500 miles away! Head to the Keeping It Curious blog for more directions on following the Winter Circle around and finding many more stars, constellations, and wonders of the night sky.

Love exploring the universe? Do we have a summer camp for you! Hope Summer Science Camps has over 20 years of experience giving kids the hands-on science explorations of your dreams. Check out the Science Camps page on our website for safety updates, camp schedule, and registration links. We are excited to see you this summer!

STEM@Home: Making Tracks

File:Tracks in the Snow - Flickr - treegrow (1).jpg
Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Winter can be a hard season for the animals who make Michigan their home. From chilly temperatures to ice covered rivers and lakes, the landscape looks a little different. But just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean the animals are staying inside! January’s snowy days are the perfect opportunity to find out what the animals in our parks and backyards are up to.

Head over to Tracks in the Snow, a publication from Nature North, and get oriented to the tracks and patterns of winter animals. Start with the basics – rabbits, squirrels, and dogs. You’ve probably spotted those in your back yard during the summer. What are they up to over the winter? Their tracks reveal all their secrets!

Move on to some more unusual sightings. Ever seen a raccoon in your yard, or a fox? Visit a nature center after a fresh snowfall and hunt for signs from those members of the Canidae family. One thing you know about raccoons and foxes – they’re probably up to no good. You might even spot deer tracks while you’re there, looking for some tender plants under the snow.

Animal tracks are like a record of what they’re up to when we’re not around. Study them carefully and you might be surprised! Is the fox chasing a rabbit? Did the rabbit escape in time? How can you tell if the animal is moving quickly or slowly?

Check out Nature North’s guide to rabbit, squirrel, and dog tracks, bear, raccoon and weasel tracks, and skunk, cat, and deer tracks! You’ll be amazed at all the winter activity these animals are up to – and who knows, maybe your human tracks will mystify the creatures after you leave! Share your track photos and animal IDs with the world, and don’t forget to tag ExploreHope on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

Love exploring our world, inside and out? Do we have a summer camp for you! Hope Summer Science Camps has over 20 years of experience giving kids the hands-on science explorations of your dreams. Check out the Science Camps page on our website for safety updates, camp schedule, and registration links. We are excited to see you this summer!

ExploreHope Summer Camps 2021!

June 14 – July 30

Schedule & registration are now available!

Hope College is offering exciting opportunities this summer for students to explore the wonder world of science and more. Staffed by Hope College science and education students, all camps feature ‘hands-on’ interactive investigations. Science-focused camps teach scientific concepts in a FUN, yet challenging way, while non-science camps deliver skill and technique-building experiences!

We are focusing on maintaining our signature engaging explorations for all ages while appropriately adjusting our safety and logistics procedures.

Check out the Science Camps page on our website for safety updates, camp schedule, and registration links. We are excited to see the campers this summer!!

STEM@Home: National Ocean Service for Kids

A post from one of our Summer 2020 Camp Counselors!…

Hey explorers, welcome back again to our STEM@home blog! I am Danielle Reiber, and I am one of the leaders for the virtual ExploreHope camps this year. I will be a senior majoring in Mathematics Elementary Education. This is my first summer working with the science camps and I have loved seeing the creativity and eagerness to learn in all of our campers!

Wow, hasn’t it been hot in Holland the past few weeks? I don’t know about you, but hot weather makes me want to swim. How lucky we are to have beautiful Lake Michigan so close to us! I hope you’ve been spending lots of time at the beach – or that you have a beach trip planned soon!

Living in Michigan, we’re lucky to have the Great Lakes be our beach destination, but the rest of the U.S. heads to the sea shore during a heat wave. So how perfect – let’s learn more about the ocean! The National Ocean Service website has wonderful learning resources and some pretty cool activities as well!

One of my favorite National Ocean Service activities was a boat building challenge! Get creative and build your own little – or not so little – boat! Think about what materials you can use, the density of the objects, what makes a boat float, how to make your boat move, and more! Once you have built your boat you could even try testing it in our own inland sea – Lake Michigan! (Then you can talk about the differences between an ocean and our Great Lakes!)

Some more SUPER cool activities are 360 degree virtual tours of the ocean! What’s the difference between the ocean and Lake Michigan? With these videos, you can compare them yourself. Plus, there’s so much more – tour shipwrecks, the shores of Hawaii and more right from your home!

The National Ocean Service for Kids has so many different resources, so once you try these out keep exploring, and don’t forget to take a swim! Have fun!

*Images all from National Ocean Service*

STEM@Home: Water Quality

Image courtesy of NASA

State slogans are perennial trivia favorites – can you name Michigan’s most recent motto? Michigan, Land of Enchantment! Nope, that’s New Mexico. Michigan, the Show-Me State? Wrong again – that’s Missouri. Need a hint? Picture a pristine beach, blue waves, a pine-topped island in the distance… and the phrase “Pure Michigan” just leaps to mind.

“Pure Michigan” – more than the incredibly vast Great Lakes, “Pure Michigan” evokes the vast aquatic treasures of our rivers, ponds, wetlands and inland lakes. Beautiful? Certainly. But maybe not as pure as they look on a tourist brochure. And as it turns out, totally pure water would lead to a totally sterile state!

What’s Inside Michigan Water?

100% pure H2O is not the best choice for the plants and animals depending on it. Surface water needs to have lots of dissolved oxygen available for fish and amphibians, nitrates and phosphates provide nutrients for growing plants, and an aquatic biome’s pH dramatically affects which organisms can live there. All of these levels co-exist in a delicate relationship – too much of one can deplete another.

Human activity like boating and farming can change the chemical balance of surface water, with drastic impacts on its ecosystems. Fertilizer run-off from farms loads up streams and wetlands with phosphates, encouraging bacterial growth. Boats can disturb sediment on the bottom of ponds and lakes, suffocating fish and other aquatic organisms. Scientists have a set of quick tests to determine how healthy a water source is for the plants, animals – and people! – that rely on it.

How Pure is Your Michigan?

So how healthy is the water in your Michigan backyard, or neighborhood, or town? You’re in luck! ExploreHope has Water Quality Monitoring test kits available for families to borrow, so you can easily learn about the water quality in our community.

All you need is a 1-liter sample from a local body of water and our Water Quality Monitoring kit to find out how your local water measures up on dissolved oxygen, nitrates, pH, phosphates, temperature and turbidity – all important tests to determine the health of the water. Compare the waters in Lake Macatawa to Lake Michigan! Learn about your favorite fishing pond or creek. You could even test the water from that one swampy patch in your neighborhood.

Now, You’re the Water Quality Scientist!

Download our free Water Quality Monitoring test kit guide here! To request to borrow a test kit, please contact and put “Water Quality Monitoring Test Kit” in the subject line. This kit comes with all the chemicals you need to run your tests.

Once you’ve run your tests, check out these great resources from the Michigan Sea Grant and Penn State Extension to help you start interpreting your results. The Macatawa Area Coordinating Council Watershed Project and Water Quality Monitoring volunteers page are also great resources if you’re looking to dive deeper in local water quality issues.

Share your results with us, fellow citizen scientists! Tag and follow ExploreHope on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to never miss a blog post or outreach event. We’d love to hear from you.

STEM@Home: Science Bob

Actual footage of HSSC Counselor McKenna!

Hello Scientists! Welcome back to the STEM@Home blog. I am McKenna and I am helping run both in person and virtual camps this summer with ExploreHope, along with conducting some research. This is my second year with Hope Summer Science Camps and I am so excited to be a part of it again! I am a psychology major but looking to work with kids, in some way, for a career. 

When most people think about doing science at home, it freaks them out and seems intimidating! But…. no worries now because I have done some research for you, and found the perfect websites to bring Science Class to your home. Check it out! 

Science Bob is FULL of crazy science experiments that can be done at home and give great explanations as to what science is actually taking place. Here are some of my favorites. 

  • Blobs in a Bottle is one of the coolest ones because it looks like this! Most of the supplies can be found in your kitchen cabinets but it looks like a professional scientist created it in a lab. It is a great way to learn about intermolecular polarity which can be kind of tricky. 
Blobs in a Bottle
  • My next favorite is the Electromagnet building activity. This activity makes me feel like a true engineer! It gives step by step directions on how to use tools that you have at home to make an electromagnetic. 
Build an Electromagnet
  • Last but not least, I have one last crazy experiment. Let’s Blow Up A Balloon without using our mouths! It seems impossible but never fear. With simple ingredients from home you can be amazed.
The incredible self-inflating balloon!

Ready to experience some science from the comfort of your home? Check out Science Bob’s website! Continue to learn more and more about STEM, and I hope you’ll come to love it as much as me! 

*Images were all taken from Science Bob’s website