Halloween Horror Science And Getting Inked By A Lab-Squid

I’ve been meaning to write about this week for a while – and since I’m now heading into the city this morning in order to do my third session of volunteering this holiday break (before starting school again on Monday), now’s as good a time as any. Besides, it’s the first time I’ve sat down and unloaded all the photographs off my camera so I actually have something to show you. SCIENCE!

This is what you get up to in the CSIRO lab with a bunch of kids aged around seven to nine, when they’re having Halloween Horror Science fun or dissecting a squid: “Mummies are about 5000 years old – but my mummy only just turned forty!”

The classes I attended were run by the staff and assisted by volunteers. The lectures at the beginning went through the concepts and got discussion going: ‘What’s a vampire? Are vampires real? What are some examples of real vampires we find in nature? How do they get blood out of other living creatures? What’s the difference between how a mosquito and a leech get blood?’

Then we had four different activities for Halloween Horror science that we went through – static electricity ghosts (lifting them with a balloon – what kinds of paper ghosts lift best?); mummified apples (mixing salt and bicarb soda) which will be ready by Halloween; planting pumpkin seeds in biodegradable newspaper pots and (everyone’s favorite) making fake blood. I ended up with bright pink hands after that one.

Making fake blood requires a little honey, ten drops of red food dye, one drop of green food dye and a willingness to walk around the lab grinning a lot after you’ve rolled the result around your mouth a little. Yuck.

On Thursday, it was the very first time I’ve helped dissect squids. This got even messier, which I didn’t think was possible.

Squids are brilliant. Really fascinating exteriors and they really smell. Some even had undigested lunch inside of them! Here’s an example of a fish that was in one of the squids, which sadly became its last meal.

Squid dissection also requires very cool labcoats and CSI-style gloves. None of these will protect you against the smell, but it does tend to make you more philosophical about the process: ‘Squid-work is smelly but it’s part of what you do if you’re a scientist, as my dad’s a scientist and he smells funny sometimes.’

We went through the characteristics (how do we know it is one?) and different kinds of cephalopods, discussing which ones we’ve seen and what are the biggest and smallest ones we could find.

Then we started on the worksheet, firstly labelling and being guided through the external parts of the squid (including a try at identifying the difference between male and female squid – the feel of the tentacles!) and then neatly slicing through the mantle to unfold and label the internal organs of the squid.

If you were very careful, you didn’t risk popping the ink sack inside and most of us avoided that. However, once you’d pulled out the gills (and floated them in some water to see how they expanded) and removed the three hearts (‘Doesn’t Doctor Who have three hearts, or is it just two?’) the class got a little creative and popped a few of the squids to see ‘just how much ink there could be in a squid’.

The answer is a lot.

Overall, absolutely fantastic groups, really fun experience and I even got to meet my first not-so-wiggly squid. Today I’m back at the museum to do basic helping out on the floor, but if I get a chance in the future, I’ll see if I can sign on for more lab sessions for SCIENCE!

If you’re stuck with nothing to do this weekend with the kids and can’t make it to a science museum? Try messing about with slime:

Ingredients for Oobleck:

  • Cornflour
  • Water
  • Plastic container
  • Food colouring
  • Popstick for stirring
  • Plastic dropper or spoon

Place two heaped spoons of cornflour into the plastic cup. Add three drops of food colouring and stir well. Using your plastic dropper or spoon, add cold water to the cup and stir. Keep adding cold water until Oobleck is formed – the slime should act as a solid when you poke it really fast and flow like a liquid back into the container when you lift it with your popstick. Oobleck is an example of a non-Newtonian fluid, as it behaves as both a solid and a liquid. The recipe for oobleck is from the Dr Seuss book, Bartholomew and the Oobleck.

About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • Cuttlefish

    You make me miss my kids in their younger years!

  • Kylie Sturgess

    :D Do what I do – help out at a venue and then it’s just like learning along with them! Mind, I know you do so much work already, so I’m glad you got to share this with me regardless. :)

  • Cuttlefish

    Nah, you’re right–volunteering is the best thing around, for all parties involved!

  • BillyJoe

    For an interesting effect, sit the non-newtonian fluid atop a speaker and put on some modern music with heaps of base.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Never thought of that! :D


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