‘Forrest Mims’ Science Experiments’: Good projects for the new or experienced amateur scientist

You don’t need science degrees and big grants to perform useful, meaningful research, says one of America’s foremost amateur scientists, Forrest W. Mims III.

In his well-written new book, Forrest Mims’ Science Experiments: DIY Projects from the Pages of Make:, Mims notes that amateur scientists are continuing to do “what they’ve done for centuries. They’ve discovered significant dinosaur fossils, found new species of plants, and identified many new comets and asteroids. Their discoveries have been published in scientific journals and books. Likewise, thousands of websites detail an enormous variety of amateur science tips, projects, activities, and discoveries.”

He adds: “Today’s amateur scientists have access to sophisticated components, instruments, computers, and software that could not even be imagined back in 1962 when I built my first computer, a primitive analog device….”

His new book shows how to use simple, homemade or purchased devices to study and gather data on a wide array of subjects: heat islands, sunlight, twilight, ultraviolet light, infrared light, airborne particles, vibrations from earth tremors, and more. He even shows how to convert tree ring patterns into musical notes.

Generally, the do-it-yourself hardware and projects he describes are inexpensive and do not require fancy tools. Some are as simple as making a basic pinhole camera and using a small piece of blueprint paper to capture an image, and others require a few inexpensive electronic components or devices. For example, in one chapter, he writes: “For  as little as $20, you can begin tracking the atmosphere’s most important greenhouse gas, water vapor. And you can do so at any time, day or night, so long as the sky directly above you is cloud-free.”

Sometimes, you need a personal computer, too, plus some software and a digital camera. Depending on which experiments you choose to pursue, you may need other items, as well, such as a hobby knife, glue gun, clamps, sandpaper and more.

Mims’ book also contains interesting stories from his own career in electronics, inventing and doing amateur science. And he includes a brief but entertaining look at Thomas Jefferson’s life and accomplishments as an “amateur scientist…who made improvements in the design of clocks, instruments, and the polygraph copying machines that duplicated his letters as he wrote them.”

Si Dunn

Forrest Mims’ Science Experiments

DIY Projects from the Pages of Make:

Forrest M. Mims III

Maker Media, Inc., paperback  (Kindle ebook also available)

 

 

 

 

‘The Heavens May Fall’ – A Minneapolis mystery-thriller – #bookreview

The Heavens May Fall

Allen Eskens

Seventh Street Books, paperback, Kindle

In his third novel, The Heavens May Fall, Allen Eskens has created an engrossing tale built around two Minneapolis police investigations and a high-profile murder trial.

In this book, fans of Eskens’s writing will be pleased to see that he has brought along three characters from his previous works: Minneapolis police detective Max Rupert, retired law professor Boady Sanden, and Ben Pruitt, a highly successful criminal defense attorney who is now on trial, charged with murdering his wife.

All three have had dealings in the past–some better than others. This adds more twists and turns to Eskens’s well-written new mystery-thriller. Meanwhile, Eskens’s own courtroom experience brings depth and believability to his fiction. (He is a veteran criminal defense attorney.)

Still, there is one moment in an intense trial scene when I found myself asking, “Wait a minute, how could a crack defense attorney being tried for murder not recall hearing a key bit of testimony in his own trial?”

That awkward moment aside, this novel flows well. The two police investigations begin to intertwine while the courtroom drama plays out. And, the ending unfolds with some startling surprises.

Allen Eskens’s previous books are The Life We Bury and The Guise of Another.

Si Dunn

Learn how to use sensors: ‘Family Projects for Smart Objects’ – #bookreview

Family Projects for Smart Objects

Tabletop Projects That Respond to Your World

John Keefe

Maker Media – paperback, Kindle

Written for parents, teachers and students (including homeschoolers), this nicely presented how-to book shows beginners how to connect a variety of sensors such as thermometers, distance sensors, and light-sensing photo cells to a computer through an Arduino microcontroller and a USB cable.

The Arduino website defines its device as:

“…an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. Arduino boards are able to read inputs – light on a sensor, a finger on a button, or a Twitter message – and turn it into an output – activating a motor, turning on an LED, publishing something online. You can tell your board what to do by sending a set of instructions to the microcontroller on the board.”

The book’s “smart objects” projects require a few additional electronic parts found online, plus some free programming software to use with the Arduino. (Arduino programs are called “sketches.”)

Family Projects for Smart Objects contains many how-to steps, photographs and illustrations to help make the projects easy to put together and get running. The Arduino sketches can be downloaded or even hand-typed from code listings in an appendix. Near the front of the book, instructions are provided for loading the Arduino software onto Windows, Linux and Mac computers.

Younger children likely will need close assistance with the projects in this  book. But technically adept older children, working alone or in groups, likely will need only minimal supervision.

Si Dunn

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