Web edition: November 18, 2011
Print edition: December 3, 2011; Vol.180 #12 (p. 29)
For those desperately seeking science fair ideas, help has arrived. Armed with a sense of humor, this third installment of the Geek Dad series breaks down the scientific process into manageable concepts for aspiring young scientists (and their parents, too).
The projects span a range of difficulties, so there’s something for all ages from elementary through high school. Some may be familiar — growing crystals in jars or formulating invisible ink — and some less so, like tips on how to extract your own DNA or MacGyver a radio using a cardboard tube. Denmead thoughtfully provides a summary for each project that gives a rough idea of its complexity, as well as the cost and the time investment needed to make this mad science work.
A few projects may appeal more to kids than to parents concerned about their kitchen counters (like setting Cheetos on fire to determine their calorie count), but Denmead’s clear, safety-conscious instructions should keep disasters to a minimum.
What sets the Geek Dad series apart from many science how-tos is the focus on experimentation, not just demonstration. The tone may be tongue-in-cheek, but Denmead encourages readers to devise hypotheses, test rigorously and collect data accurately. “Whether we ask the right questions, or understand the answers,” he writes, “is totally our problem.”Gotham Books, 2011, 231 p., $18