Fiery Verse

fiery verseWe always love explosions here at Pop Goes the Page, but today we are going to bring you something truly unique…today, we are going to show you words as fire. Yes, FIRE!

This remarkable demonstration would not be possible without two things: 1) A Ruben’s tube, and 2) Princeton University’s Manager of Undergraduate Labs and Demonstrations, Mr. Omelan Stryzak. There’s an interview with Omelan at the end of the post, but for now, let’s get to the FIRE!

A Ruben’s tube, which was invented by German physicist Heinrich Ruben’s in 1905, is a length of tube with perforations along the top. One end of the tube is attached to a flammable gas, and the other end to a small speaker or frequency generator. Send the gas flowing through the pipe, ignite where it escapes through the perforations, and then introduce sound through the speaker. The flames will oscillate higher and lower according to the pitch of the sound or song.

Here’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” played through the Ruben’s tube:


Of course, being the literary fans we are, we wanted to see what happens when we read into the Ruben’s tube. Wouldn’t it be cool to see words as FIRE? The short answer is yes. It is waaaaay cool to see words as fire. Here’s Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. Please note: I recited it all weird to get the pitch of my voice in different places.


This awesome demo was masterminded by Omelan Stryzak, Princeton University Department of Physics. Here he is, photographed in his office/magical science playground.

omelan stryzakAnd we do mean magical because look at this! An actual levitating object, just casually sitting on the edge of his desk!

Also! A secret moving wall…which technically allows equipment from Omelan’s office to be smoothly transported to the adjoining auditorium. But we couldn’t resist a turn on it.


There are a number of other way cool objects in Omelan’s realm, from plasma balls, to portraits of Archimedes, to machines that break wineglasses with excruciatingly high tones!

science lab imagesOmelan hails from Bridgewater, New Jersey, where, as a home schooled youth, he continually curb shopped for thrown out electronics (photocopiers, fax machines, etc.) to disassemble and learn from. Graduating college with a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering, he has worked for Disney, traveled the world, and adopted a stray kitten who he aptly named “Fizzix.” He’s also a father with a young son, and self-admits a newfound skill of telling “absolutely terrible Dad jokes.”

How did you land this incredibly cool job?

I had come back to NJ from an IT job in Miami and was teaching for the “Mad Science” franchise as a break and I received a call from Princeton…apparently the Physics Department picked out my resume because I had experience with small mechanical devices and electronics (I had learned early on – ALWAYS keep your resume in circulation… you never know who might reach out…). They wanted someone to build the sensor head to the ACT (Atacama Cosmology Telescope) and I could not pass up the opportunity to add the Princeton logo to my resume…

I spent time in the cleanroom assembling parts at the heart of the telescope that were only millimeters in size and making giant cables as wide as my wrist…I even spent a few months working at the telescope in Chile on the Atacama Plateau (at the time it was the highest continuously manned telescope in the world – and it was looking for/at the beginning of the Universe!). As this very cool project was winding down, two elderly gentlemen who were doing the job I have now were retiring – I was a pretty good fit and decided to take the job. Long story short, I kind of fell into this job.

What’s your philosophy on science education?

I wish everyone were gifted with at least a little interest in science and the opportunity to explore: Applied right, it is like having an additional sense or x-ray vision applicable to every-day life. With that said, science will become increasingly more important for future generations of children and their increasingly difficult problems to solve. It should also be more of a communal education/understanding for all – fewer revered specialists or individuals to blindly follow and rely on to make critical mistakes. My part in this? I’ve always described by job as “Bringing the boring science book to life – showing concepts in the real world to aid understanding and entertain at the same time.”

Describe a typical work day:

Its definitely changed a lot with a 13 month old… ^_^

  • Wife wakes me up just before 6am as she leaves to go teach high-school….. out the door by 7:30am at the latest.
  • My Wife’s brother takes care of our Son during the day. Never thought we’d have a “manny”. ^_^
  • If the weather is good, take the bike off the back of my car and bike from the parking lot to my office.
  • Prep any last minute demo requests – Professors love to have ideas around midnight/1am and send me an email.
  • Deliver any specially requested demos to the smaller classrooms for precepts (different sections of classes where class size is smaller and students get more one-on-one time with Professors and demos)
  • Make sure the demos pulled the previous day are ready for Professorial review (basically lecture rehearsal and getting the profs familiar with the equipment – Usually I have to remind/chase down a few Professors to remind them that they need to come down to look at their demos…. Or even remind them that we have demos to reinforce a particular topic that they are teaching)
  • Make any requested modifications/create new demos that are relevant to the upcoming classes. (I’ve got carte blanche and training on all the Department’s resources – all of the machine shops (including the machines that can kill you!), stock room, laser cutter, departmental credit card…. Ohh the possibilities)
  • Setup the demos on-stage the day’s lecture(s) while being careful of scheduling (the two large lecture halls are multi-purpose – Physics classes are not the only users)
  • Run the lecture with the Professor – depending on who is lecturing my interaction can change… sometimes I’m sitting on the sidelines just in case something goes wrong, other times I’m the one describing the science and running the apparatus while the Professor waits/watches.
  • Once the lecture is over, hang around the classroom if I can for curious students who want to learn more or have trouble understanding the demo(s). Very rewarding. ^_^
  • Break everything down and return it to backstage for cleanup/storage.
  • Pull relevant demos from inventory for the coming three days for cleaning/refurbishment/lecture prep.
  • If we recorded the lecture, either edit and upload the video myself or offload the workload to a coworker.
  • If I’m home first, cook dinner and snuggle with our Son.
  • Once baby bedtime is over, a good hour on the computer is spent on emails, making technical drawings, writing code or paying bills. Surprisingly, I don’t participate with any social networking (Facebook, etc..) saves a lot of time!
  • Then the typical chores/cleaning/home maintenance before bed.

What’s your favorite science toy in the workshop?

Always a tough question! But I really do like the reactions that I get from the singing Tesla coil exploding a balloon hydrogen filled balloon….. and EVERYONE hates it when I make it sing “Let it Go”. ^_^


Wasn’t sure if I was going to include this in the post, but since Omelan DID mention singing…here’s Katie with her rendition of “You Are My Sunshine,” courtesy of sulfur hexafluoride:


SF6 is an inert, nontoxic and incombustible gas, but…DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME KIDS!

Super Stoic Skunk Squad

skunk squad

Become a dynamic crime-busting duo that thwarts theft and keeps the peace! JUST DON”T STARTLE OFFICER SKUNK.

We read Please Don’t Upset P.U. Zorilla by Lynn Rowe Reed (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006). When Mayor Tootlebee receives a letter from a well-mannered skunk named P.U. Zorilla, he immediately offers him a job. Unfortunately, the town quickly learns that no matter what the job – school bus driver, pet store clerk, ball park popcorn seller – something always happens that upsets P.U. Zorilla. And…well you can guess what happens next! However, when crime strikes at a local jewelry store, P.U. Zorilla manages to save the day, earning him a new job as Chief of Police!

You’ll need:

  • 1 large tissue box
  • Black and white construction paper
  • 1 paper cup
  • Dark blue poster board
  • Crime fighting game (more on this below!)
  • Scissors, tape and/or glue for construction
  • Hot glue

The skunk is basically a large tissue box decorated with black and white paper. The nose is a paper cup, cut down to 2.5″ and attached with hot glue. We also added a jumbo pom-pom nose and wiggle eyes, but you can simply draw these on with markers.

front of skunkThe books hilariously builds up to P.U. Zorilla inevitably doing what skunks do. We wanted to capture some of that fun, so our skunk box actually “sprays” when startled, courtesy of a rectangle cut in its rear and a white plastic grocery bag…

back of skunkAlso part of the story time project? A police hat for you, and a police collar for your skunk. The hat is from our You’ve Got Mail post – we just swapped the red headband for a black one. Your skunk gets a blue construction paper collar as well. Notice the gold foil seals on the hat and collar? Kids earned those in the “Crime Fighting” portion of our story time:

hat and skunkKatie printed 6 images on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock. Half of the images were calm (flowers, puppies, ice cream truck) and the other half were alarming (robber, loud noise, ghost). Katie walked the kids through the training, asking them to react to the different scenes. If it was alarming, the kids pulled the plastic bag out of their skunks and sprayed!

Moby Dodecahedron

moby dodecahedron

Call me Cryshmael. Some weeks ago – never mind how long precisely – having money in our purse, Katie and I found something particular of interest to us at the store, and we thought we would test it and see the narwhaly part of the world. Yes, whenever we find ourselves growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly October in our  souls, we account it high time to test Klutz’s “Grow Your Own Crystal Narwhal” kit as soon as we can.* Take it away, Katie!


Klutz designed the “Grow Your Own Crystal Narwhal” kit for children ages 8 and up and it retails for $12.99. If narwhals aren’t your favorite, Klutz also has kits to grow a crystal fox, unicorn or dragon. But it’s science! It’s crystals! It’s a narwhal! And who doesn’t love adorable narwhals?

klutz grown your own crystal narwhal kitThe kit provides the basic pieces to get started. Namely an instructional booklet, 2 pipe cleaners, crystal powder, a plastic narwhal figurine, and a little paper backdrop to pose the finished product on.

klutz narwhal kit contentsHowever, you will have to fill in some gaps with items you may or may not have already at home: 2 heatproof glass jars with lids (I used old jelly jars, but Bell jars would totally work), measuring cups and spoons, a plastic plate, and a pot holder or trivet. Most importantly, you need to use distilled water to make the crystal growing solutions. I bought a gallon of distilled water at the grocery store for 99 cents.

You start by making a crystal “seeding solution” and saturate the pipe cleaners you’ve attached to your narwhal in the solution. I also saturated 3 pom-poms to create “icebergs” and tried to turn the remaining white pipe cleaner into “coral.” Let the narwhal (and optional icebergs and coral) dry overnight.

narwhal phase 1Next, you make a crystal “growing solution” and let the narwhal soak in the solution for 4-8 hours. If you made the solution correctly, crystals will grow on the pipe cleaners. Let the narwhal dry overnight, then do a second round of soaking in the growing solution. If your experiment worked, you finish with a beautiful narwhal with a crystal tusk, water spout and tail!

narwhal phase 2One suggestion…I had to get a bit creative with my glass jar because there wasn’t enough growing solution liquid to fully cover my narwhal. I simply rolled up a dish towel and rested my jar at an angle so the pipe cleaners were submerged.

soaking narwhalAnother suggestion is using something other than your fingers to remove the narwhal from the liquid after it is done soaking. I used a wood skewer, but you can also use a plastic spoon or tongs. In fact, every time I handled the narwhal or any of the experiment materials, I thoroughly washed my hands to remove residual crystal powder (which is aluminum potassium sulfate, or alum).

Place the crystal narwhal on the provided paper backdrop, and you are done!

finished narwhal on backdropIt took me 4 days to finish the project. But I allowed extra soaking time for the pom-pom “icebergs” to grow bigger crystals, so technically you can wrap up the experiment in 3 days. There is a great deal of adult supervision to complete this kit. I fully agree with the suggested age range of 8 and older with adult assistance. There is no way a child should work with stove tops, microwaves, boiling water, and chemicals without an adult present.

Here are my rankings…

KIT: 4 out of 5
Being asked to supply so many additional items in order to get the experiment to properly work is a bit of a bummer.

INSTRUCTION MANUAL: 5 out of 5
Klutz does a great job with the manual. It thoroughly explains how to do the experiment, the science behind crystals, fun facts about narwhals, important safety information, and provides a detailed troubleshooting guide if your crystals aren’t properly growing.

EXPERIMENT: 3.5 out of 5
There are a lot of tedious steps that could possibly frustrate the younger experimenters. You also have to commit several days from start to finish.

AWESOMENESS: 5 out of 5
You grow crystals! So cool!

KATIE SAYS:
This crystal narwhal kit shines! Recommended!


*All due respect to Moby Dick by Herman Melville. We couldn’t resist!