Voorwerp discovery Public appearances Astronomy adventures Everyday life Comic book Voorwerp discovery Public appearances Astronomy adventures Everyday life Comic book

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!


Symposium ‘Open Access: the new beginning?’

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Pictures taken by myself, except where stated otherwise.

Last month I was invited to speak at this symposium ‘Open Access: the new beginning?’ in Amsterdam, for which I prepared a talk on how open access the Zooniverse is. Of course I explained why I was there, as a citizen scientist (and how I became a comic book hero; Dutch people always love that title), but the Zoo really is a good example of how science can be shared.

Obviously, the data is open to classify for anyone, but the results are as well. Papers from the various Zooniverse projects are published on the main page, where they’re free to view by anyone. Besides this, the analysed data is open, once it’s been reduced and according to Chris: “All the code from our projects is being made open source.” I learned something new with that last bit of information too!

After my talk, every speaker in that session was invited to take part in the discussion panel, talking about how we can achieve more open access. And after that I spoke to Tim Cardol, who published bits of our conversation on Science Guide. I also had an interesting conversation with Christian from the university of Amsterdam about the humanity projects.

I love how attending such meetings teaches me new things and I love meeting interesting people. I also love (sunny) Amsterdam and did I mention I love being a citizen science ambassador? And life, life in general, I love that too. It was certainly another day worth travelling for. The symposium took place in the Oude Lutherse Kerk by the way, which was a lovely venue.

It was also just around the corner from the American Book Center, which – by a nice coincidence – a friend of mine in England had just mentioned to me on an unrelated matter. So I had to take a look and look below who I ran into! These pictures are not all mine, so thanks again to the photographers for letting me use them and thanks to the organisers for inviting me!

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Picture with kind permission of Monique Kooijmans

Picture with kind permission of Monique Kooijmans

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Picture with kind permission of Jos Damen

March Against Animal Testing

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I realise this will sound very cliché, but it’s my life goal to try and leave the world a better place than it was back in ’83. Therefore I’ll stand up for what I think is right whenever I can and one such occasion was last month, on World Animal Day. More than a thousand people came together at the famous town square of Maastricht, ‘het Vrijthof’, to protest in a silent march against abusing animals for testing. My aunt Joke, her twin sister Anja (both my dear friends), my lovely cousin Valesca and their dog Kyona signed up to show the world this matter is important to us. Animals need our voices to stop the unnecessary cruelty against them.

The way I see it, every smart and responsible human being would agree with us that we shouldn’t abuse fellow creatures this way. We simply shouldn’t think we have the right to torture another being in order to become better ourselves. But some argue that a human life is more important than that of another animal and “if you had to choose between your beloved family member or a lab rat, wouldn’t you also…” Which was the other side of the story used in the news that day. The problem is though, that we’re mostly ‘becoming better’ because we’re saving money and time by testing on animals. The testing itself is not necessary and often not even a good solution.

The good news is: there are other options! Alternatives cost money though and it takes time to develop even better ways of testing. Before we set off for the silent march to show our support for the Anti Vivisection Coalition, one of the organisers declared he dreams of a world without animal cruelty and this is why I decided to walk along with them too. We need to put energy in better tests; tests that do not require brutality and that are more accurate too. More recently, the Netherlands were fined for not doing their part to minimise the use of animals and for not protecting their rights, so clearly it’s still necessary to raise awareness for them.

My little cousin doesn’t know all of this; she’s too young to investigate all the angles. But she does think we simply should be nice to animals. Even though she was slightly upset to find out she’s a sort of ape too – she likes apes, but she doesn’t want to be one. I informed her that that’s okay. You can dislike facts. It doesn’t make them less true though. And it’s also a fact we’re using way more animals then we need to, for painful tests for which we have better alternatives. And as long as we continue to do this, charities like ‘Proefdiervrij’ will need our help. It felt good to do my bit and be part of the thousand people, fifty dogs and one rat, that protested that day.

Animals do still need our voices to stop the unnecessary cruelty against them.

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Talking in Kohlscheid


A while ago I was asked to speak in Kohlscheid, for Ericsson. Apparently, the company organises meetings to inspire their employees and they thought the story of the Zooniverse and my discovery through it, would do that. So I took the green tour bus to Germany (I love how I learn about new places) and I did my presentation. The q-and-a session afterwards lasted even longer than the thirty minutes I had been talking, which was really nice. This group of people was genuinely interested and afterwards we took a few pictures, of which you can see the results below. Thanks for inviting me!

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Het logboek

Remember the space recipes contest? And how the winners would end up in the book Anke den Duyn was writing? Well said book is out now and it’s called: “Het logboek”. As participants of the contest, my students and I were sent a copy and we’ve been reading it together since.

Even though Anke had promised me the copies, it was a lovely surprise to find a box delivered for me at my school. The contest was right before the summer break, which means that the second year students who had sent in their space recipe are now all in different third year groups. So I got to be Saint Nic, handing out these books. The teacher in me loved how this had lots of others interested in books suddenly as well! “Why are they getting a copy of this book? What’s the book about, ma’am?”

It’s about three teenagers, who are spending their last week of the summer holiday camping in the forest in Dwingeloo. That’s right: the same place ASTRON – the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy – is located. Mysterious things happen here and together with the help of new friends and the telescope, they might actually discover something… Meanwhile, you’ll learn a lot of science and history of this particular part of the Netherlands.

Since I showed both my students Kayleigh and Joey the telescope when we were at ASTRON for the final contest, they loved reading about it in the book. Personally I thought it was a lot of fun to have Kayleigh tell me she’s already a chapter ahead of me and that she thought it was very exciting. Joey also commented that he liked the writing style and that you’re sucked into the story from the start.

So we’re giving it good reviews. And even though ‘we’ didn’t win the contest, it was also nice to see little references to the recipes Joey and Kayleigh had sent in. Thanks, Anke!