Summer Camp 2018: Area 51 Lab

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Jr. Geologist Summer Camp 2017

Experimenting with new dimensions!


Download the printable guide here

First, we will be making a shape on paper called a “truncated pyramid”(AKA isosceles trapezium) – a pyramid with the point cut off. This will be your guide to make your plastic truncated pyramids later.

1. One a piece of paper, draw a straight vertical line – this will be your center line.

2. Next, you will draw a line that will intersect the centerline (horizontal). This line will measure 1 cm total and will intersect your center line directly in the middle: 0.5 of your horizontal line should extend from the center line to the right, and 0.5 will extend to the left.

3. Now, measure down your centerline 3.5 cm. Your truncated pyramid will be 3.5 cm tall. Your next horizontal line will be 3.5 cm away from the 1cm horizontal line you just drew.

4. The length of your next horizontal line (at the bottom of your truncated pyramid figure) will have a total length of 6 cm. It will be split evenly by the intersecting centerline, so 3 cm will be to the right of your centerline, and 3 cm will extend to the left.

5. Now, you will connect the edge of your top horizontal line to the edge of your bottom horizontal line. You should get your truncated pyramid shape.

6. If you have a protractor, you can check to see if the angles of your truncated pyramid are correct. Position your protractor on the right edge point AKA vertex at the bottom of the pyramid. The angle should be 30 degrees. CHALLENGE QUESTION: What should the angle of the left vertex be? Hint: this angle is the supplement of 30 degrees.

You will use the guide you made to make the sides of your projector.

  1. Position your sheet of plastic over the guide shape you just drew on paper. You will trace the shape on the plastic sheet 4 times (make 4 truncated pyramids on the plastic).
  2. Carefully cut them out. Try your best to cut exactly on the line and to make sure that all 4 shapes are the same.
  3. Use clear tape to tape the four sides together. Use only enough tape to hold the sides together as excess tape can make the projected images blurry. You may have to attempt this step a few times to make sure all ides line up properly.

You have completed the construction of your projector! Now to test it out!

1. Check out the Eco Explorers Youtube channel for videos online designed for your holographic projector – you will 3D jellyfish to firebolts and even a dancing Minion!

Eco Explorers on Youtube

  1. Select one of the holographic videos. Place your truncated pyramid in the center of the screen with the topside facing down. Make sure your projector is positioned directly in the middle of the 4 images.
  2. Dim the lights and enjoy the show!

Download this guide with pictures here.

Jr Conservationist Field Camp


Building Wetlands

Eco Explorers was pleased to partner with some of our area’s environmental superstars to present an 8-day summer camp experience for Pittsburgh 4th – 6th graders. Eco Explorers joined South Fayette Conservation Group, a local watershed organization,  Hedin Environmental, an environmental engineering firm, and Albert Kollar, geologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and former president of the Pittsburgh Geological Society.

Our activities involved an equal share of indoor and outdoor learning, complete with 4 hands-on field trips. During our classroom days, we participated in  multi-sensory activities to help us to understand our local geology and the phenomena that influence our watersheds (pictured right: building wetlands) and the dynamics of our environment.

Our field experiences intended to introduce us to real environmental professionals and to show us real life examples of the work that environmentalists, engineers and natural scientists do.

We visited Fossils Cliff, one of Pennsylvania’s premiere fossil hunting sites to carefully extract and identify fossils in fossil-bearing strata exactly as paleontologists do every day. We took a trip to the lab of geologist Albert Kollar at the Carnegie Museum and had a private behind-the-scenes tour of the fully-equipped paleontological research laboratory and specimen collection at the museum. We joined South Fayette Conservation Group for a guided tour of a remediated multi-pond wetland.

Wingfield Pines Passive Abandoned Mine Drainage Remediation Site


Mr. Kollar showing us a 20-milion year old lake cobble

Our last day of camp brought our environmental all stars together – we took a trip to the environmental success story, Wingfield Pines, a 25-acre abandoned mine drainage remediation site that mitigates 43 tons of iron oxides flowing into Chartiers Creek (pictured above).  Completed in 2009, the system operates by gravity and treats iron-laden mine discharge that is running at 1,500 gallons per minute across the property before it enters Chartiers Creek. The engineering firm which designed the incredible site, Hedin Environmental, led our lucky campers on a hike through the property. Scientist Albert Kollar joined us again, too – as if the experience wasn’t already cool enough – to show us about the evidence of an ancient 20 million year old lake that once filled the area!

Jr. Conservationist was a truly special experience!

Winchester Thurston Jr. Geologists & Ecosystem Science Lab Summer Camp

Eco Explorers had an amazing 2 weeks of Jr. Geologists and Ecosystems Science at Winchester Thurston North! Our Explorers hailed from all over western PA and even a few of us came from other countries to take part in the awesome summer adventures at Winchester! Our Jr Geologists solved plate tectonic puzzles, studied minerals and crystals under a microscope, cracked geodes and made our own, recreated volcanic eruptions, built earthquake proof skyscrapers to test on our earthquake table, modeled an oil drilling operation, even transformed our classroom into a Californian gold and mineral panning camp from 1848 for a day. We went to mars on our last day of camp to study the geology of planets beyond our own. We and designed, built and raced mars rovers and tested three samples of Martian soil for life using methods we thought might show potential life in soil.

We made a special discovery during our fossil hunt this year. About 300 million years ago, when our local rocks were forming, plants became well represented as fossils in the muddy swampy terrain because the bacteria that could recycle the tough materials in the plants wasn’t very sophisticated yet at breaking them down when they died. Insects are a bit harder to find as good, complete fossils because their bodies tended to get scattered or destroyed so it was very exciting to find a complete beetle fossil in the very good condition that we found it in this summer!

During our Ecosystems Science lab, the Eco Explorers began the week with a puzzle introducing us to the fascinating and often bizarre life forms that have come,gone and changed over the long history of the earth. We devised an anti-venom for a mock snakebite, discovered how fascinating early life forms changed our atmosphere, tested crafts powered by solar and wind energy, devised a plan to make our water safe after an oil spill in our model. We took a tour of campus to identify interesting poisonous edible and medicinal plants and found sassafras, a deadly cousin of the tomato – horsenettle, a plant that is being used in cancer research – pokeweed, blackberries, the plant that killed Abraham Lincoln’s mom and a whole bunch of other neat plants!

We learned how to test for pH and nutrients in the soil, peered at hitch hiker seeds under the microscope and headed to Winchester Thurston’s little pond to test the water for evidence of an algae explosion and played a game to understand why an algae explosion in the water could lead to a “crash”. We made a cell to take home, built a biome and had a great time learning about the biodiversity of living things!

South Fayette Elementary Eco Engineers Summer Camp

IMG_20150721_153845South Fayette Elementary students had an awesome week of engineering during Eco Engineers! Our week of camp was chock full of exciting challenges that had campers putting their heads together to come up with creative solutions! During one of our favorite activities, campers took to the drawing board with ideas to make an earthquake proof tower. We had to consider what sorts of design elements would be the most successful when our towers were stress tested on the earthquake table. Like real engineers, we had to consider how to create tensile strength that could endure forces acting upon our structures. We considered how the height of our structure could introduce new challenges, and even how “style” is a real-world consideration that professionals must consider when designing a tower. IMG_20150716_114728

Our campers considered a variety of options to clean up an oil spill in our model. We learned about and tried out mini versions of the current real world solutions for such a catastrophe, including some chemical responses – surfactants to break oil down and polymers to turn the spill into jelly – as well as mechanical measures for cleanup like the use of booms, skimmers and barriers. Our campers found that cleaning an oil spill is no easy task! IMG_20150724_152331

We brought creativity to the design process of our race cars. Using recyclables and reusables, we considered how, as engineers, we could make a racer that could not only move with ease, but could also withstand a test crash and keep our crash test dummy safe! We also examined the role of physical forces on our motorless mobiles – how might an inclined plane affect the potential and kinetic energy related to our cars? What role does inertia play in our crash test? Campers had a great time creating, crashing, revising, racing, and crashing their creations again!

Check out our racer videos!

Watershed Program @ South Fayette 4th Grade

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA South Fayette 4th Grade discovers the dynamics of a watershed using an interactive 3D model. Eco Explorers, the DCNR and South Fayette Conservation Group partnered with students to model several different scenarios of land uses, and compare and contrast the effect on the waterways. DSCF0749

It’s a beautiful day to go outside and learn about water chemistry! A 4th grader is using a pH probe to test a local creek. He has learned how indicators such as pH and nutrient tests can tell us many things about the health of our stream! DSCF0752

We discover how the living things we find in the water – like riffle beetles, crayfish, caddisfly larvae, dragonflies, frogs and fish – can help us to figure out if this stream is a healthy place to live!

Check out 4th grade’s student news report on our visit!