Marching for Science!

Good Morning!

Today, Earth Day, is also the day where millions of scientists and other like-minded people are marching to raise their voice about climate change and other worrying trends affecting the science community. If you haven’t considered going, reconsider! It’s a good way to learn more about the science community and why they’re so passionate about what they do.

If you’re not too sure if the march is for you, consider this:

Scientists are people too! (Wild, right?) There are people marching because their jobs may depend on it, as many people depend on funding and projects as their income. by marching, you support them as well!

Science programs funded by the government (state and federal!) work to research diseases, environmental causes, injury prevention, food safety… the list goes on. You probably interact with a project developed by scientists or researched by scientists every day of your life.

If you’re on the fence because of religious ideas, don’t worry about that either! Science is not a religious or spiritual following. There are so many people in the STEM fields who are also devout followers of their respective faiths. Miyam Bialik has an amazing video on how she approaches this. If you’re Catholic and weren’t aware… the Church acknowledges Evolution and the “life soup” theory. The Pope is an Environmental Chemist.  So. Gonna leave that there.

But I’m not a scientist, you say, I don’t have a library of textbooks or a subscription to fancy journals. I can’t even understand what these people are saying half the time! Why can’t I just get my science news from CNN/FOX/XYZ network?

Wellp, now is the time, dear reader, to be brave and take the jump. You don’t have to understand calculus or the inner workings of proteins to get involved or support research. You just have to be willing to learn. Start with the basics. Learn some fundamentals. Ask an ex-roommate or sibling or niece or grandson or uncle or neighbor about what they do. Go ahead and ask those people covered in mud holding buckets in the marsh what they’re doing. 8/10 times, they’ll be happy to tell you (if they’re not actively trying to wrangle a critter). Go to talks at your local library! Take notes!

Just (for the love of all things good on this earth) don’t take in the news of convenience. Pick up a textbook. Get your research news from somewhere legitimate. Learn about the scientific method and ask yourself if what those researchers did was valid. Numbers DO MEAN SOMETHING!

Anyway, the only thing stopping you from learning is you. Don’t settle for anything less than concrete evidence. Don’t let the loud, vague sentences sway you.

Anyway, go to the march (if you can). Many of us here at Whimsical Science are working today in our labs and our teaching spaces, carrying on the work of furthering knowledge and educating the future. At the very basic, that’s what we’re marching for anyway.

(OOH, also share your march photos to our facebook page!!)

-The WS staff





Holy Darwin’s Finches, Batman

 WOW. So after seeing the promotional materials released for Sun and Moon, the immediate thought that came to my mind was of Oricorio and it’s ‘forms’ that depend on which island the Pokemon lives- it’s a reference to Charles Darwin and his finches! When Darwin sailed down to the Galapagos, he observed birds with some vastly different adaptations in beak shape; he determined that those with beaks suited to the environment and food supply were more likely to survive and pass down their genetics (beak shape, coloration), causing the adaptation to continue to offspring. Such began his theories of Natural Selection and Evolution…


Above image: Finches from the Galapagos Archipelago. Each bird has a slightly different head shape and beak shape. Pictured are G. magnirostris, G. fortis, G. parvula, and C. olivacea

And OH MY GOODNESS look at what we have here…

Above 4 images, the Oricorio found in Pokemon Sun and Moon. From right to left, a bright pink Oricorio based on Pacific dance styles (Pa’u style), a blue-purple Oricorio based on Japanese dance (Sensu style), a red Oricorio based on Flamenco dance (Baile style), and a bright yellow Oricorio based on Cheerleading (Pom-Pom style).  Designs by Game Freak. 

Oricorio has different typesets and morphs on different islands clearly based off of styles of dance. Along with the obvious visual difference, each Oricorio has its own type assignment besides flying.

Now, the whole mantra of Pokebiology is that Pokemon was not designed by Biologists (or any science discipline for that matter) so that we need to take everything with a grain of salt.

I bring that quick and friendly reminder up because Oricorio is not a direct comparison to Darwin’s finches. After playing through Sun, it’s painfully apparent that these delightful dancers are actually another case of metamorphosis and quick adaptation. To truly be a parallel to Darwin’s finches, there has to be a genetic component.

What do we mean when we say genetic component? Basically, these birds have to hatch as the Oricorio they are and remain unchanged. Let’s ignore the nectar portion of Oricorio for a second:  If a DNA mutation causes an Oricorio with an electric typeset to hatch within the fire-typeset population, it probably wouldn’t fare so well. A bright yellow cheerleader themed bird would be easy to spot, and without the proper dance moves probably wouldn’t find a mate. That means our yellow Oricorio would not pass down its appearance, or phenotype, to its offspring. But, if it somehow did find a mate, there is a chance that DNA mutation would pass to the offspring, leading to the bright pom-pom wings and yellow feathers to appear in some seriously cheerful Oricorio chicks.

But, that’s not the case in Sun and Moon. Considering the nectar, each Oricorio has the chance to change depending on which meadow it finds itself in.  Naturally, that helps when it comes to hunting, camouflage, and presenting the correct courting dance to attract other Oricorio. Below is a good example of how well that camouflage works: if we were to walk through Melemele meadow, we would probably end up walking by Oricorio without a second thought.


Above image: My Magneton, Faraday, encounters a yellow Oricorio in Melemele Meadow.

Another possibility that can be considered is that the nectar they drink has the ability to change their genetic code, then we have a situation where a DNA mutation occurs purposefully and is passed down, which still doesn’t entirely fit into our real-life finch example. (Stay tuned for another post on that idea entirely…)

But, for right now,  our little dancing Oricorio make for a good reminder of actual, real life biology. I give the Game Freak folks some props for attempting to mirror some historical bio references.

Apologies and Promises

So, as much as I’d like to preach about planning and schedules and such;

Life Happens. Very quickly. Very unpredictably. The last few months have been a heck of a roller coaster. New jobs (plural!)(both at the same time), a new vehicle, and a major life reboot have meant that Whimsical Science took a longer hiatus than intended. However, we’re back and ready to get cracking.

So here’s the deal:

We have a few articles lined up, both in FMA Chemistry and Pokebiology!

We are also developing some study sheets that should help people with equations and basic concepts (gotta get ready for finals, right?).

Finally! Pokebiology 101 will be presented at Anime Boston (March 31-April 1)! So keep an eye out for times/rooms!

Thanks for sticking it out,

Connie and the rest of the Whimsical Science team

FMA and Chemistry- Equivalent Exchange Stoicheometry


            Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the greatest manga/anime ever made. One of the reasons for this greatness is how consistent the world is, especially when it comes to one of the center points of the story: Alchemy and how it works. Alchemy was a scientific discipline at one point in history; Isaac Newton believed and wrote several papers on alchemy. It was eventually eclipsed by chemistry because chemistry was able to make better predictions.


While the alchemy in Fullmetal Alchemist does not completely line up with the historical alchemy, some of its principles line up with modern chemistry. One of these principles is arguably the most important; the Law of Equivalent Exchange. This law states that to obtain something, something of equal value must be lost. Or in more precise terms, your end product has to have the same mass as your starting materials. Lets demonstrate this with a simple example from Fullmetal Alchemist. In Chapter 38 of the manga, Roy Mustang demonstrates the ability to split water into its base elements, Hydrogen (H2) and Oxygen (O2). So the chemical formula for this reaction would be:

H2O → H2 + O2

            Already we can see a problem with this, since there is one oxygen on one side of the equation, (which are called the reactants or reactant) and 2 oxygen on the other side, (which are called the products). We must then change the number of molecules on one or both sides to make sure we have the same number of atoms on both sides of the equation.

Since we have more Hydrogen atoms than we do Oxygen, lets balance the Oxygen first. If we have 2 water molecules as reactants, then Oxygen will be balanced

2H2O → H2 + O2

            So now we have the oxygen balanced but not the hydrogen. The simplest way to balance the hydrogen is to add another hydrogen molecule so that we have 4 Hydrogen atoms on each side.

2H2O → 2H2 + O2

            This method also works on more complex equations as well. Just make sure to start by balancing the least represented element, and work your way up to the most represented element. Now that the equation is balanced it is more useful to us.

            Now, if Roy knows how much hydrogen gas he wants, he can figure out how much water he needs.

Chem Photo1

The equation shows that for every 2 molecules of water, we would get 2 molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen. The practical problem is that you can’t directly measure the number of molecules of a substance. However, mass, volume, temperature, and pressure can be measured directly so we would have to relate the number of molecules to one of those measurements. Fortunately, there is a relation between the number of molecules and the mass of a substance, and that is the unit known as a mol (mole). A mol is defined as 6.02 x 10^23 molecules.

So lets say that Roy wants to make a Kg of Hydrogen so that he can set something on fire. (Hydrogen is a flammable gas after all,) He has 20 Kg of water to make hydrogen, how much of that 20 Kg would he need to brake down to get 1 Kg of hydrogen?

Lets start with how many moles are in 1 Kg of Hydrogen. To convert mass into moles we need to know the atomic mass (which can be found on the periodic table of elements). The atomic mass of Hydrogen is 1 and since there are 2 atoms in 1 molecule of Hydrogen, the atomic mass of molecular Hydrogen is 2.

step 1

The measured mass must be in grams to convert to moles so 1 Kg becomes 1000 grams; this is then divided by 2 to give us 500 grams per mole. Since a mole is a measure of the number of molecules of a substance, then water must have the same number of moles as Hydrogen according to our equation.

step 2

So now we have to convert from moles back to grams by multiplying by the atomic mass of water. Using the periodic table and the chemical formula for water, we find that the atomic mass is 18. we multiply 18 by 500 and we get 9000 grams or 9 Kg of water.

step 3

So the moral of the story is, water does not make you safe from the Flame Alchemist.


Pokemon Diversity Study, Continued (“Results Section”)

So when we last left off (two weeks ago), we had a guide to setting up a mock diversity study using Pokemon Go.


(Above: The Abra that decided to pop by while my car got new breaks…)

Already, we have a few bumps in the road as Pokemon GO ecologists:

  1. Pokemon GO is, for our purposes, totally random.
  2. Sometimes I don’t have adequate service to play
  3. Accidental transfer of Pokemon happens; luckily I paid attention to the task at hand

So, how did this go over despite the three bumps? Well, I used two very different spots over the span of 2.5 hours: Canton, CT and the National Mall in Washington, DC.  One is a small town that I can walk around a little bit while my car is in the shop: the other is a Pokestop-filled bustling city on a Summer day at peak Tourist time. (My tall and awesome assistant and I even ducked into the Smithsonian Museum of American History for the A/C, Pokestops, and some learning time. No Pokemon were caught within exhibits, however.)

The data? Well, I definitely need more of it to try to do any quantitative analysis, but we can still learn a bit more about using Pokemon GO as a learning tool. (Insert Inception meme here)


Canton:                                                               Washington DC: 

Canton DataDC data


Obviously, I ran into more Pokemon in DC, which in the terms of the game makes sense due to the population density and Pokestops, which is still important when we think about dispersion of real animals. In Canton, there aren’t as many people or Pokestops, so less Pokemon. Unfortunately, this also means less data for me to analyze.

So, for Canton, I only encountered 10 ‘Species’ of Pokemon: My definition of a species being the same evolution tree: so if I get Poliwag candy from a Poliwhirl, that counts as a species. Nidoran are difficult because it’s different candy, so I counted each Nidoran as separate to keep my definition accurate.

In DC, I encountered 19 Pokemon within the time limit and 13 species overall- I did not count the two I hatched (a Tangela and Bellsprout), because I technically did not encounter them. I encountered Sandshrew most frequently, and started a separate column for just Sandshrew. I also kept track of which Pokemon had a qualifier, such as XL/XS, but my sample size wasn’t big enough to analyze either. (Sample size is the amount of good data we can work with mathematically or analytically to support a hypothesis or trend. I can’t say I have a reliable average size of Sandshrew because I only caught 4… that’s a very tiny part of the Sandshrew population!)

Moving on, we’ll discuss what happened here and move onto some more experimental designs that will cover the gaps found in this study. How are your studies doing? Let me know on the facebook or my twitter!


Weekly Update (August 8th)((Late again…)

Good Morning everyone!

My weekend was hectic and Monday was Monday, so here we are! The Pokemon Diversity update will be up later today: Pokemon GO is not a reliable data pit, but I’ll talk about that later.

Here’s what’s on the menu this week:

  1. Pokemon Diversity Update
  2. FMA Chemistry (Friday Post!)

That’s all I can promise this week- the ‘bumps’ in the road will be covered in a separate post. Other than that, hope you all had a good weekend!

Let’s talk about Math

Math can be a scary thing. Our society today seems to box it in with geniuses, geeks, and people who don’t leave the safety of their homes or offices. In fact, it’s often strange that someone would like math. Personally, I really disliked math. The repetition of something I didn’t like was killer; I didn’t understand why we were doing it, or why we had to do the same thing over an over again. It wasn’t until I got to higher levels of math- Calculus 1-3 or stats, that I understood the application and how we could actually use all the “completing the square” nonsense or why lines were so important.

Math can tell us a lot about a situation- if we were to quantify data, like how many cupcakes are consumed in a given time, we can plot a line of time vs. cupcakes eaten and get a slope or a trendline- an equation of a line that can help us predict how many more cupcakes needed in a given length of time.

oh hey it's a trendline

In other ways, math helps us indirectly, like when we’re baking those cupcakes. Doubling, halving recipes all involve fractions (if you find a recipe written with decimal points, please send it to me).

Math is also important to many different industries- engineering, business, education especially. Although it’s not in the same format as the math learned in middle school or high school, it’s still a higher level of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing than it seems.

So why is learning math such a gigantic task, and how do we fix the begrudging attitudes towards what is really a fundamental skill?


Well, let’s learn it in the context of interesting applications. Math textbooks like to do this all the time: “If a wombat is walking though the forest at 1.2 meters per second, how far does he wander?” or even, “George buys 600 sodas for  6 cents each and only spends 34$. How much was the original price of the soda?”

But no one application or method is going to work for everyone- once more it takes a bit of creativity and work to learn something new, something we’ve covered previously. So what can we do?

  1. Patience- try different things and keep trying until something sticks
  2. Be kind to yourself- math is a different way of thinking in general, don’t get too frustrated if you’re stuck or cant seem to understand something. Your brain needs time to work with the information
  3. Make it into a game- use different colors and figure out the pattern, and turn learning math into an RPG styled leveling system.
  4. Break everything up into smaller bites. Rewrite your notes or examples or create a small video talking yourself through it. Use props or playdough or something you can mold or create
  5. Ask others for their methods!


These are just a few things you can do to make math easier- it’s not that math is some insurmountable task, it’s just that it’s a far different way of operating than writing an essay or absorbing, processing, and repeating information. It takes time, but with enough patience it can be done!


Weekly Update (August 1st)

Hi everyone! Happy August!

You’ll notice that the studying article was a bit late- I was busy all week helping out the FullMetalFalcons robotics camp! They did an amazing job teaching 5-8th graders the work and the knowledge that goes into a FIRST team’s robotics. Here’s the planned lineup for this week:

  1. What is Studying? (Study sheet)
  2. Let’s talk about math (Blog Post)
  3. Update on the Pokemon Diversity Study


Let me know in the comments if you’re trying the Pokemon Diversity study! Sadly all week I’ve been busy with the robotics camp and the consequent exhaustion, so there will be an update for sure this week!! Also, get ready for some FMA chemistry starting next week.

Let’s all have a great week!

soma happy skip.gif


What is studying and how do I do it? (Blog Version)

Hey everyone! It’s already August, so that means back to school prep has begun! It’s really never too early or late to get ready, in my opinion. I’m starting my bi-annual (twice a year) paper purge, figuring out what papers can go, which need to stay, and what materials I’ll need for the semester. It’s also when I start thinking about my study habits; what worked well last semester, and what didn’t work so well. (Example 1: choosing to study between the hours of 8-10 on Tuesday/Thursday, because I’d get distracted by the TV…)

If you’re starting college, or getting into a new school, or even not satisfied where you are with grades and such, these few tips may help you out- remember, it’s never too late to change habits! BUT one important thing to keep in mind is that there is no one single right way to study!! 

Every person needs a different combination of things, be it time, technique, or even note taking styles. Studying even depends on the material you’re working with. It’s kind of like a sandwich- there are a few things absolutely needed, but each part of the sandwich can be very, very different for each person. Different bread, different fillings, but all still sandwiches. Same goes for studying!

Here are some things that many students share-

Make a list- Breaking down tasks and making a list will take down a few notches of anxiety, as well as make you feel productive as you go along. Say, for example, you were writing an essay on the history of the wizarding world; you would break that down into research, planning/outline, writing the draft, and editing individual paragraphs. To study for an exam, you could break down the material into chapters, and then further into sections, and by keeping a list of the material you had trouble with.

Time Management– there are many studies that show a maximum concentration time for the average person as 50 minutes. This is pretty efficient because in a long-haul schedule (think weekends) it builds in a 10 minute break; start at the top of the hour, read/write/engage the material for 50 minutes, and then take a break. However, the amount of time can certainly be adjusted- a 45 minute work period and a 15 minute break, or a 30 minute work period and 10 minute break, etc. The important part of blocking out time is that you give yourself enough time to get at least one task done before taking a break. Make your flashcards, make a study sheet, read a chapter or heavy section. Then break and do something completely different for a bit.

now its concentrated.gif

Engage the Material– simply reading and highlighting the book or your notes is kind of the ‘easy’ way out if you want to really understand the material. Although it’s comforting to see all the color in the pages, it’s really not the best way to commit it to memory. Highlight the notes/book, then write/elaborate on the material separately. Draw a picture or diagram displaying the information in a visual manner; speak or read your notes out loud/ record for further use. My go-to are multicolored study sheets that combine the notes and other sources, like the book or online videos.

If you get stuck- write down what’s wrong and get back to it later– sometimes it’s better to move on instead of getting frustrated and discouraged. This does NOT mean you’re giving up- you’re instead acknowledging that you need help with the subject either from a different source or you need to spend more time thinking about the material. Doing another project or section in the meantime can let your brain even subconsciously work on the problem.

Know when to study by yourself- Sometimes it’s helpful to study with another person or a group of people- otherwise it’s trouble. A good way to study with others is by doing some review yourself, and quizzing or doing a second review with others. They may have some new ideas or ways of thinking that you may not have considered! Science (and History and Literature and the Arts!) is a team sport, after all.


Like I said, studying is different for every person, but everyone still has to do it anyway! Very few people can go to class, hear information once, and pass with flying colors. Find what works well for you! Listening to material, writing material, re-reading material or even relating movements to material can help your brain absorb the information like a sponge. Try and see  what works for you, and if not, change up your routine! It is never too late to learn a new way of studying. However, you should start studying long before a graded assignment so that if you need another technique, you can start before it’s too late. SLEEP is also key! You need at least one cycle of deep REM sleep to store information into long term memory!

Happy trails!



Race Cars and Teamwork

Over the weekend, I got to spend a day at a beautiful racetrack watching some high-performance machines show off.  The best part about this weekend/day experience is the opportunity to watch the result of some serious teamwork. What is put onto the track- a Corvette, Ferrari, Ford, Porsche, or otherwise- is a product that has been meticulously designed, built, tested, repaired, tweaked, and refined to the highest quality of car. It’s also a place where the safety and features of our own vehicles get directly tested under some extreme conditions. Saturday was a really hot day, and driving for 3.5 hours straight at over highway speeds puts a lot of demand on the electronics and engines and people alike.


So what goes into all of this?

These cars are specially designed; although the chassis are classic icons (think Corvettes or Porsches), the internal engines are redesigned time and time again to get the most power out of the least amount of fuel; something that we look for in our own cars. A team of design and research engineers does this long before the car gets to the track, even before the car or engine is physically made.

The car is then built or modified by mechanics who know and understand every working detail of that particular machine, and these mechanics are able to communicate very well about the car in question. The biggest part of teamwork, of course, is communication. The driver needs to know the exact limitations or abilities of the car, and also needs to be able to relay back any specific issue.

That leads to the pit crew, the spotters, and crew chief- all people who work a certain role with certain abilities, be it a quick tire change or tune up, or an extra set of eyes on the track, or someone keeping track of every duty to ensure that the team runs efficiently, with no loss of excess energy.

All of this leads to a seriously amazing feat of engineering; a car built to test and verify our own everyday safety, with the added fun of racing it up and down hills, through left and right turns, and the possibility of bringing home a very big and very shiny trophy for their efforts.

What can we learn from this?

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses; not everyone can do everything all at once. There needs to be balance in a team to cover all of the bases, and a mutual respect for one another’s roles. Take a study group, for example: each person brings their own notes and understanding to the table, and shares it with the others. Someone takes notes on the textbook, the other the lecture, the others make alternative study guides, bring food, manage time, etc. The same thing goes for a baseball team- each person has a position in the field and a position in the batting order, and although they all contribute separate skills, they are all still one team working for one goal.

In science fields especially, no one can understand every underlying field completely. A group of Biologists may be comprised of someone who knows Ecology, someone who knows Biochemistry, and someone who understands Physiology, and together research an underlying factor within a population of organisms. The same goes for any field with subspecialties, as well.

Fandom works the same way too- a group of friends might have a trekkie, a whovian, an otaku, and a robot nerd- each one shares their fandom while sticking in their subspecialty; it makes for a more enriching and fun time that way.

Something to keep in mind is your own skill set- what are you good at? What do you want to get good at? Is there anything small that you’d like to achieve? Small skills will build up into bigger skills; think an RPG game with levels. Don’t give up on an ‘eh’ skill- you’re just earning experience points towards a higher level!