Valentine’s Day Dilemma

February 7, 2011 by

If you are like me, you have just recently realized that Valentine’s Day is a week away and you have been totally caught off guard and completely unprepared with no immediate ideas popping into your head of what to do. (In the efforts of full disclosure, I must admit that I do have some vague recollection of Valentine’s candy being on display starting on December 26th…) So, what should I do? I think through those other vague memories I have a.k.a “New Year’s Resolutions”, and realize that we’ve committed to staying on our budget so, nix the idea of international travel (…ok, let’s be real…it nixes the idea of traveling anywhere by plane at this late date!). We’ve also committed to eating healthier so that also cuts out the candy/chocolate options. So where does that leave me? May I suggest the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum?  The Michigan Daily listed the Museum as Ann Arbor’s most unique date spot. What a grand idea! You would be able to explore each of the Museum’s four floors and learn more about the person you are with as they interact with the exhibits. Not only that, but if you celebrate over the weekend, you could take part in Heart and Health Days and learn about how to take care of and love yourself more! Whew, I feel better already! Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Have a Ball – The History of Baseball

January 27, 2011 by

By: Thomas Rode/Guest Blogger

1898 Maine Baseball Team

In honor of Members’ Night – Have A Ball, onJanuary 27, 2011, we wanted to share some history behind one of the sports we play.

There is a lot of discussion around the origins of baseball, but the game seems to have its root in an Irish version of a ball game called Rounders (Irish: Cluiche corr). It was a folk game in the 1740s and very popular among kids. However, baseball as we know it today emerged from a teen game to an amateur team game in the 1840s. Players used a 3-ounce brown ball which was too light to throw really far and too dark to see well. To make the game more fun, the balls were changed to white to be more visible, got heavier to increase speed and bigger so it was easier to hit during the next 30 years.

August 1908 a baseball team in Indiana

Most balls were self-made and not very robust. Balls of different sizes were used throughout games. When a ball split open during a game, it would be replaced with another. The players learned to adjust to the different weights, sizes and speeds of the different balls they faced throughout the game. Size and weight were standardized in 1872 and to this day a baseball has the weight of 5 ounces and has a 9 inch circumference.

The early balls were called lemon peel balls which had four seams on opposite sides. Usually it fell apart at the corners (where all the seams converge) and you could see the string- and yarn-wraps around the rubber core. An improvement was the figure eight seam – the seam you see on today’s balls. It creates a ball with no corners.

Up to this time, baseball was a flat game with few homeruns and low scoring games. The game strategy was mainly moving runners from base to base via hit-and-run plays, bunts, sacrifices, stolen bases and squeezing the ball into awkward shapes to manipulate the pitch. But a tweak of the ball changed everything: by secretly replacing the rubber centered balls of the 1910 World Series with balls of a cork center, the game got way faster and dynamic. The offense had real trouble and quickly needed to develop new strategies to the new liveliness of the game. Pitchers adjusted with freak deliveries. Players spit on the ball (Spitball) or glued sandpaper to a finger and scuffed it (Scuffball) to influence its move. Others rubbed it with mud to make it nearly impossible for batters to see. As a result Ray Chapman was struck down by a ball and died. Now, spitballs are banned and balls are replaced at the first sign of wear or dirt. To take off some speed, a genius idea combined the fast cork ball with the slow rubber core balls by wrapping rubber around the cork core. In addition raised seams enabled pitchers to get more grip for better breaking balls. Since 1931 the ball has not changed much.

Fun fact:              1845: Baseball had 20 rules.  2010: The rules of baseball are explained in a book of 128 pages.


December 14, 2010 by

Bubble Capsule

Unlike me, my daughter is a frequent visitor to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. That’s why I didn’t know anything about the bubble capsule. Standing in front of it, I joked, “If this is a shower, somebody forgot the towels.” She just rolled her eyes. “Papa,” she sighed, “this is the bubble capsule – it’s my favorite!” I still didn’t know what she was talking about. No sign indicated its name or its use. Later, I learned that the best things don’t need manuals (but adults always do). The question mark on my face caused a quiet “tsk” to slip off her lips. “Watch,” she said, vexed. She pulled the chain inside the … yeah, I still called it a shower at this time. Instead of getting soppy, a hula hoop rose from the soap solution beneath all the way up to her head. After several attempts, she got swallowed by a body-sized soap bubble. “Wow, this one is bubblenormous. How is it inside?“ I asked, excited. “Bubbletastic,” she replied. Soon, I was bubbleized, too, as my daughter calls it when someone uses the capsule.

But this exhibit has its moods. Some days are more difficult than others for forming bubbles. Those occasions awakened the scientist inside me, and I experimented with pulling speed, putting my jacket on and off (even shoes) and trying it at different times during my visit. I figured out it works best if the cables are wet, so first I pulled the hula hoop all the way up to accomplish that. Then I did it again, gently but not too slow. Once, Dave Stapp was passing and looked baffled by my socks. He’s one of the guys who takes care of the exhibits. I took the opportunity to interrogate him on how the bubble capsule works.

He told me the biggest problem with the bubble solution is contamination with dirt. Dirt from the streets or, since it’s snowing recently, salt will smutch it. Also, oils from our fingers get on the hoop and are washed into the soap solution. The alcohol in the hand sanitizer available around the museum does its share, too, quickly making the solution foamy and less effective. “Like a tiny grain of sand hurts in your eye, it hurts a bubble,” Dave says. He refills the solution each day to dilute the dirt and submerge the hoop completely. Every two weeks, he takes a sponge, a brush and a bucket, tips over the bubble capsule, and cleans it thoroughly.  “The capsule needs a lot of attention. Cleaning is one thing, but the machinery needs maintenance, too,” Dave says. He tightens the cables the kids pull on and checks for fractures in its plastic coating. If the ropes or the hoop get too rough, the little gaps make the bubble pop more easily.

The seasons also have an effect on the bubbles. In summer, the sun shines into the halls and warm air rises to the ceiling, where the ceiling fans blow it back to the floor. The constant circulation creates a wind that presses on the vulnerable soap film till it pops. In winter, the sun isn’t as hot but the air gets very dry. The soap film dries out much quicker than it does in our humid summer and pops more easily.

Soap bubbles are so simple and pure. But there are quite a lot of factors that hinder the creation of the very large ones. One night, my daughter had difficulty falling asleep. The neighbor’s dog was barking nonstop, so she asked me, “If I’m sleeping inside a soap bubble, will it be completely silent inside?” “I guess we have to try it out,” I answered.

Best conditions for getting bubbleized:

  • Fresh soap solution
  • New strings
  • No direct sunlight
  • No fans rotating
  • High humidity
  • Wet cables
  • Moderate speed of pulling up the hula hoop
  • Patience

By: Thomas Rode/Guest Blogger

Great Lakes Discovery

November 9, 2010 by

By: Thomas Rode, guest blogger

Michigan is larger than many European countries and it’s almost 2/3 of my home country: Germany. For me, the Great Lakes seem far away. But a couple of my daily routines easily remind me how closely I am in touch with the lakes. For example, the apples I got this week have grown in the farms around the Great Lake area. My antique table where I spend my meal time is made of wood from Upper Michigan, shipped across the lakes. And drinking water travels through the soil all the way from the lakes to us. Without it, I cannot enjoy my cup of tea each morning. More importantly, the lakes have a huge impact on our climate. During the summer time, water evaporates and makes the air in Michigan more humid. The lakes also store heat and that is why our winter is warmer than states without big lakes. You see, the Great Lakes are connected to many aspects of our lives, and that gives us good reason to learn and think more about how we can protect them.

So I headed my way to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum to visit the Great Lakes Discovery exhibit that has just  opened. There, I walked through a replica of a shipwreck. I learned a lot about the first pioneers, their fur trade, and how they lived around the lakes from 1600 to 1900. As I exited the replica, I saw real artifacts from the Pewabic, made available by NOAA’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, MI. I read the Pewabic was a passenger steamship that crashed with her sister ship Meteor. The Meteor sank within minutes. Right next to the artifacts was a 3-D model of the Lakes. I just needed to put on those colorful glasses and it almost seems like I could stick my finger inside the lakes. On the round media table behind me were buttons to start a cool animation of the Empire State Building dropping into one of the lakes. The animation was made by an 11th grader, Jacob Wimick, to demonstrate whether the building will stick out or sink completely in the lakes. The exhibition also shows historic pictures and pictures of shipwrecks taken by divers, which was my favorite part.

At the end of my visit, I took a peek through a microscope. I saw what zooplankton look like – and I can tell you, they are really funny insects living in water.
You see, there is a lot new and fun stuff to do and learn at the Great Lakes exhibit. If you would like to take a look on your own, you may want to double check the weather before you visit the museum. If it’s rainy, you certainly will catch some water drops on your nose – and where do you think they originated?

Big House/Big Heart Run

October 5, 2010 by

Objects in Motion 2010

By: Jenna Rupp

Ann Hernandez & Jenna Rupp

We had a great time taking part in the Big House/Big Heart Run this year! And thanks to all of the generous donations we received, we raised more than $1,100 for the Museum which is over double our original goal!

Objects in Motion 2010

Although it was quite cold the day of the race, we all were eager to take part in this great event. Running through the UM campus and ultimately crossing the finish line on the 50 yard line of the Big House was incredible!

We took some great photos of our team throughout the race. Here are a few!

Where’s the Queen?

September 23, 2010 by

By: Thomas Rode/Guest Blogger

“Where is the Queen?” That’s the question most people ask us while standing in front of our bee exhibit. During the last 25 years we have been keeping bees off and on and I can tell you – Dave Stapp, who cares for our bees, butterflies and moths, has seen many intense faces trying to find her in the seething swarm. If you ask him, he will tell you a trick that makes it very easy for you to find the queen. Look for the blue mark on a bee’s back. That’s her! Her majestic dignity, herself, the Mother of ALL bees you can see here. All day long (and even during the night) she lays eggs in the combs – up to 2,000 each day! If you have difficulty locating her, don’t be surprised. She likes it dark and doesn’t want to be disturbed. Her haunt is between the two layers of wax combs. So, if you can’t find her, she is playing hide and seek with you!

When we started this hive, there was no queen. Therefore we had to introduce a new one to the hive. But like all other alien bees, she wasn’t welcome. In fact, she was treated as an intruder that had to be killed. To protect her, we had to put her inside a fenced box with two candy plugs in its sides. The bees then eat the candy plugs. It takes a while before the bees finish chewing a hole into the plugs to reveal the queen. However, as they are chewing they get used to the queen’s smell and eventually accept her as the new queen. She lives up to four years inside the hive and rarely comes out. When the queen gets old, she lays eggs in a special comb. The larvae will be fed with Royal jelly – food just for queens. A newborn queen will get a colored mark on her back from her beekeeper. The color that is used changes every year and repeats every five years. A white mark tells you that she was born in 2006. Yellow, red, green and blue marked queens were born in the following years. Can you tell how old our queen is? Check out this video that shows a queen bee and the worker bees around her. Looking at the mark on the queen, what year was this video taken?

There are two other kinds of bees in a hive. You can differentiate between female workers and bigger male drones. Drones don’t work in the hive, don’t have a stinger and can’t even feed themselves. Their sole purpose is to mate with a queen of another hive. Female worker bees have many tasks. A young worker bee stays inside the hive for her first month of life. She cares for the nursery, feeds drones, cleans and defends the entrance. In her second month you can see her flying outside to collect honey and pollen. It is hard and dangerous work. So hard, in fact, that she won’t survive a third month.

In early spring we bought a set of six wax starter combs to build a new home, the queen and a 3 pound bee colony for about $78. Wait a minute – 3 lb of bees? Yes, it’s easier to weigh them. Who wants to count 60,000 bees anyway? More or less, this is the amount of bees for a normal hive in summer. But in freezing cold winter, with no flowers left, there is not enough food. They can downsize to a population of 2000. Dave substitutes their food with sugar water to get them over the cold months. Even now there is a jar of sugar water.

The next time you are at the Museum spend some time with the bees. Search for the queen, identify the drone and worker bees and look for the jar of sugar water. Will you be able to see them all?

We Sweat For Science!

September 8, 2010 by

Objects in Motion Team 2009

On October 3rd, the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum running team, Objects in Motion,  is participating in the 5K race for The Big House Big Heart Run for the second year.

Our team is excitedly training to race from the University of Michigan football stadium entrance, through campus and finish on the 50-yardline of the “Big House.”

We need your support to make this run a success!  Last year, the Museum participated for the first time and raised over $300 with the help of community donations.   Our goal this year is to raise over $500 to support the museum and its activities.

Help us raise money for a cornerstone of our community that provides kids and adults of all ages the opportunity to explore, educate, and have fun!   Please donate online and select Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum in the dropdown list or send in your donation directly to the Museum specifying  “Objects in Motion” on the memo line.

If you would like to run, walk, or wheel along with us, please email the museum at for details on how you can join the Objects in Motion Team.  See you at the finish line!

School Memories

August 31, 2010 by

By: Jenna Rupp

I loved the start of a new school year. When we’d go school supply shopping it always included buying new clothes and tennis shoes for the year. I would be so excited about the new clothes that were primarily fall and winter attire, that I’d want to wear them the first day of school even though the weather didn’t match the clothes. As a kid, it made perfect sense. It was the first day of school and I wanted to wear my new clothes for this new start. I see it now from an adult perspective and can imagine my mother groaning and shaking her head in despair as I came downstairs that first morning wearing a sweater and jeans. She’d tell me I looked beautiful and would mildly ask if I thought maybe I’d be too warm. Every year I would attempt to assure her that I’d be fine and every year I would end up sweltering.

I also loved my new school supplies. New notebooks, fresh paper, new pencils and pens.  I loved filling my bag with them and organizing my school desk. I’d have my Holly Hobbie lunch box filled with good for you food that I hoped I could trade for something more yummy. So, I’m dating myself with the whole Holly Hobbie discussion…but this is what I remember.

I remember marching around the classroom with instruments and learning the times tables to a beat, which I still can recite without hesitation. I remember sitting in a circle and listening to my 4th grade teacher read James and the Giant Peach to us. It is still one of my favorite books.

As I think of these memories I think of the school memories the children of today will have and am proud to work at an organization that will be interwoven into them. So many times I hear from older children and adults how they “always remember” coming to the Museum as a child with their family and on school field trips. I’m glad to be in a place that creates such wonderful memories. We wish you a great start to your new school year and look forward to being a part of more favorite school memories that have yet to be made.

The Latest and Loudest

August 23, 2010 by

By Jenna Rupp

I’m not sure who on our exhibits team is responsible for the placement of new exhibits, but I would certainly like to have a conversation with them! When I first started working at the Museum, the exhibit right outside my office door was this:

Hand Cranked Generator

The Hand Cranked Generator seems fairly innocuous, right?  Well, do you notice that red light in the back?

It is a warning light and it now makes a pretty red light, but it used to also have a siren that when given enough energy, produced a lovely siren type of noise. As the exhibit required a great deal of effort to create the noise, and as we are a prime location for small children, I didn’t hear the noise very often from my desk. They have since moved that exhibit and in came the new ones,  which I have personally named: “The Latest and Loudest.”

Sound Patterns Exhibit


These exhibits, Telegraph and Sound Patterns, are just perfect for children to learn about sound waves and Morse Code. Both create a great deal of sound. So, at any point in the day, I hear songs ranging from Hail to the Victors  (this is Ann Arbor, you know) to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to even a fantastically piercing scream going through the Sound Pattern Exhibit. This is then followed by laughter and giggles as the children see the sound wave patterns change.

Visitors enjoying the Sound Pattern Exhibit

At other times, I begin to wonder about my hearing as someone taps out a message in Morse Code and I hear a constant beeping sound that won’t go away. But then I also get to hear the excited gasps as children realize they can spell out their names in Morse Code.

Morse Code

I hear it all and wonder how I could be so lucky…. Now where did that exhibits team go?

My Bucket List

August 16, 2010 by

By: Jenna Rupp

As I interviewed Dave Stapp for the previous post, I was awed by some of the things I learned about the life cycle of the Monarch. If you haven’t seen a Monarch emerge from its chrysalis, now is the perfect time. And, although I can’t guarantee that you will definitely see one emerge when you visit, I can guarantee that in the next few weeks,  any time you come in, you’ll see monarchs and cecropias in a variety of different stages. The neat thing about the stages in a Monarch’s existence is that they change fairly rapidly. They basically go from an egg to a butterfly in about six weeks. Which means that there will be about five generations of monarchs every year in Southeast Michigan. In contrast, the cecropia has one generation per year, remaining in the cocoon between 7-8 months, finally emerging in the Spring, (usually in late April or early May) when the blossoms fall off of the apple trees.

Monarch egg on a milkweed leaf

The Monarch caterpillar develops inside an egg for about one week. They are pretty firmly attached usually on the underside of Milkweed leaves.

Monarch Caterpillar

They then live about 4 weeks as caterpillars.  While in this stage they eat milkweed and grow. Near the end of the 4 weeks, the caterpillar moves to the underside of the milkweed leaf and hangs upside down in the form of a J. Although the caterpillar still looks like a caterpillar, it is changing. The most vulnerable time for the Monarch is when it is in the J formation. If it would fall from its post, the caterpillar would be lost because when it is hanging upside down, its feet are being absorbed and the chrysalis is beginning to form. If it fell, it would not be able to climb back up to its roost.

The Monarch remains in its chrysalis for about one week. The chrysalis is a brilliant green color with gold flecks around the edge. It is amazing to see this ornament-looking object in nature.

Monarch metamorphosis from "J" formation to Chrysalis

The chrysalis then turns dark, which actually is because you are able to see the wings and body of the Monarch through the clear shell.

The chrysalis then splits and the Monarch emerges. And as I described in the previous post, the Monarch spends several hours drying and pumping up its wings.

Monarch Metamorphosis from darkened chrysalis to butterfly

Monarch butterflies generally live around 2 weeks. However, as I mentioned previously, there are usually 5 generations of Monarchs in Southeast Michigan. That fifth generation is the amazing one. Where the average Monarch lives 2 weeks, the last generation usually lives from October through March. The last generation is the migrating generation. All Monarchs East of the Rocky Mountains migrate and “winter” in Mexico. They don’t just go anywhere it’s warm. They all go to the same forested region in Mexico. Check out this video on YouTube! In March, that last generation begins their journey north. They stop and lay eggs on the way and then that last generation passes away. It takes 1-2 new generations to make it back to Southeast Michigan.

As you can see, I interviewed Dave to get a behind the scenes look at how he cares for the Monarch/Cecropia exhibit and I came out a budding Monarch enthusiast! I know that I will never be able to look at a Monarch the same way. And now my bucket list has a new entry – to visit the forest in Mexico where the Monarchs winter. What an amazing sight to see!


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