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Citizen Science in Brussels

Thanks to the world wide web (again), I learned about this conference in Brussels about citizen science (especially in Belgium and the Netherlands). The ‘young academy’ organising this already had a lot interesting speakers and they also planned to have a landscape, or market, where scientists and ambassadors could show their projects. This is where I came in. I was asked to open the market and present the Zooniverse projects. Since it was so close to my good friend Els’ home, I asked the secretary of the universe to come along and help me (as she’s an expert really). We had a great day. It was very interactive and visitors liked our penguins and sunspots.

Thanks to: Els, De Jonge Academie and everyone participating! (And to the lovely guy I met on the train for making the journey go faster). You can see a long list of cool citizen science projects on the EOS Wetenschap website.









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Picture: Hanny van Arkel

It was a success; Heel Nederland Kijkt Sterren (the Dutch equivalent of Stargazing Live)! Since I was present at the live location Sterrenwacht Tivoli in Oudenbosch, I had only seen bits of the show last Wednesday on the little monitor in the field. Until yesterday, when I watched the whole thing from dad’s recording. Dad said he loved the show too: very interesting and informing, in a way everybody could understand. And I fully agree.

Sure it was a bit hectic. I received a call on Tuesday asking if they could come round to my place the day after to do a pre-recorded interview as well. We did a few interesting shots at the Sterrenwacht Limburg, before I rushed to Oudenbosch with trains and busses and what not. There I heard they were not going to use the pre-recording (that’s television for you), but they did still want for astronaut André Kuipers to interview me live (which was very cool of course).

And very much worth the cold. It was a lovely location and we were taken care of very well. Friends of mine were also interviewed and they got their telescopes signed by André afterwards. We still had to travel back south for two hours, but it was good to be a part of this. I also loved seeing so many awesome people in the astro-world that I know working together and of course we were all happy the show was finally here in the first place!

I heard from a reliable source that we had over one million viewers, which is of course pretty good for our little country. Also, from this spot, I’d like to thank all those viewers who’ve been in touch during and after the show; the feedback is much appreciated! (And thanks to everyone present for the fun times!) If you’ve missed it, you should be able to watch it online now too and below you can see a few pictures we took from our ‘backstage’. And here’s to next year!

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Picture: Edwin van Schijndel

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Picture: Orfeo Tremour for Sterrenwacht Tivoli

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Picture: Orfeo Tremour for Sterrenwacht Tivoli

5 1957771_10204931696149879_275843033801875532_o.jpg Xavier Debeerst
Picture: Xavier Debeerst

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Picture: Steven Lantinga

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Picture: Hanny van Arkel

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Picture: Steven Lantinga

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Picture: Hanny van Arkel

Dank U Sinterklaasje!

Dutch people and English readers who have been following me for a while, know it was that time of year again: the Saint Nicholas celebrations! There have been some discussions lately (again) about this tradition, and Zwarte Pieten in particular, but I’m not going to address this anymore. I’ve just been enjoying the festivities with my family, which is what it is all about. And with this I’m sharing a few pictures of the occasions. Also per tradition.

Steven’s shoes in the morning.

And mine were filled too (good morning!)

Valesca was Very Excited about it being Pakjes eve!

And her daddy liked her gifts too.

At home we crafted ‘surprises’

With poems, chocolate letters, pepernoten and gifts…

Steven got a T-rex

And I got a very cool advent calendar, with six days (obviously) and presents behind the doors. As you can see the cover is a beautifully painted space frog, so this blog is also showing up in the Art category.

Hashtag Dank U Sinterklaasje!

‘Heel Nederland Kijkt Sterren’…

…is the Dutch equivalent of the BBC’s Stargazing Live, which will be broadcast for the first time tomorrow evening. I’m announcing it here because it will be really cool and you should watch it if you can and also because I will do an interview for them. The details:

Wednesday 3 December 2014, 21.25-23.00 on channel NED1
Presenters: Jeroen Latijnhouwers & Govert Schilling

Besides the show in the studios, André Kuipers will co-present from Sterrenwacht Tivoli in Oudenbosch, where I will join the stargazers too.

Keep lookin’ up!


Science in my English class

Just so you know: I’m mainly writing this story and sharing these pictures for my students from 3F. (Guys, you can skip this next paragraph). As a bit of an explanation to my other readers: I think most articles about me say I’m a biology teacher and my students also know me as the Dutch teacher. I’ve been asked more than once (by complete strangers online as well as my own students) what kind of teacher I actually am, since I’m now also teaching music again – and English. It’s complicated. For the sake of it, let’s just assume I’m a woman of many talents, okay?

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Class 3F knows me as their English teacher. One of their English teachers actually, as I’m sharing them with my lovely colleague Inge. As you also may know, I’m still studying English. Therefore Inge sometimes visits my classes (to give me tips) and I visit hers. On one such occasion, Inge did an exercise with 3F for which they had to listen to a recording. It was about a girl who had participated in her school’s science fair. She explained how she had made stalagmites and stalactites. Our students had to put the images about this story in the correct order.


I took the above picture from their workbook, while they were correcting their answers. They didn’t have to do anything else with it, but I wanted to know if this actually worked. Whenever you get the chance to do fun experiments, you should take it, right? (I just realised my curiosity is probably the result of my parents raising me the way Neil deGrasse Tyson promotes, but that aside). I promised our students I would set it up to see if we could make our own stalagmites and stalactites. Spoiler alert: you sort of can! They’re not impressive, but they might be, with a little tweaking of the setup.


I started out with the materials in the picture above: an old baking dish, two plastic cups filled with warm water and a lot of baking soda and some thread with a paperclip on each end. I know ‘a lot of’ isn’t very scientific, but I forgot how much was needed (and I couldn’t find this experiment online, surprisingly). I started with three tablespoons of baking soda in each cup and I added two more later. You can see in this third picture that I was trying to solve the problem of the thread not hanging loosely downwards enough in the second picture, by adding another paperclip.


I figured it might get in the way of a possible stalactite though, so I removed it again. I also thought I should use thinner thread, which I could wind up better. Then I put everything in the carton box, where the cups would be further apart. This was the right position for the thread and I was also still able to move the whole experiment, if needed. (I later put it on the heating to see how evaporating the water quicker would influence the result). I put an old little plate under the thread, for the stalagmite to develop on.


Sure enough, the water climbed the thread from the cups and started dripping from the centre of the thread. I then quickly realised that the plate wasn’t flat enough. It had a sort of bump in the middle, so the water flowed to the edges of the plate, leaving curved paths. I wanted it to stay more in the middle, so I used the orange lid of a plastic cup. (Yes I was quite caught up in this). I took a couple of pictures while it kept dripping. And a couple more, to try and capture the moment the drop would leave the thread!


So it worked, but I thought it didn’t work fast enough. I changed back to a thicker thread, which could handle more water. It sure did! Meanwhile, a few crystals formed on the orange lid. I removed the lid again eventually though, because the water was now flowing so fast that the lid would soon be floating. The next morning, both the cups were half empty and the baking dish which I had put back again to deal with all the water, contained about 2 centimetres of it. You can see this water as it reflects the left cup in one of the pictures below.


I decided I had had enough fun adjusting this arrangement in trying to create stalagmites and stalactites from baking soda in my kitchen. I left it a few days to see how more evaporation would make it look like and you can see that result in the last picture. You can click this one to enlarge it and focus on the tiny stalactite (the dried up drop of water and baking soda). You can also see the thread is hard from where it left the cups. There isn’t a lot of water left in the cups and the white crystals on the orange lid were very powder like.


Lastly, there isn’t any liquid left in the baking plate. The transparent parts may look like there’s still fluid, but when you look closer you can see it’s solid. The little stalagmite ‘bumps’ also have crystal spots on them. So it kind of worked. It may look like a mess at first sight, but I can advise anyone to do try this at home. Just put everything in the sink when you’re done and pour hot water on it to clean it up. Of course, if anyone reading this manages to make more impressive stalagmites and stalactites: please feel free to show me your results!