What is CABS?

This site will help high school students and teachers find original, independent science research topics and questions that can be done without a professional lab...these can be done in a school lab or even in one's basement! The project ideas and research questions being developed and presented here have been vetted and could lead to true discoveries, and not just finding already known results. See our Welcome message. These are the types of projects that could be done and submitted to high school contests such as the Regeneron Science Talent Search or Siemens Science Competition, and be competitive. If you have an idea to share, or a question about one of the project ideas, contact us at vondracekm@eths202.org.

Pages (on the right side of the screen) have lists of ideas for different types of science research projects, and clicking on one of those ideas will take you to posts with details and all sorts of information about that type of project. Get more information about why there is a need for CABS!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Learning Computer Programming for Research

For anyone interested in any kind of research in any field, computer programming has become an absolute MUST skill to have. If you want to do any computational work, data analysis, animations, access online datasets and databases, theoretical work, or working with the latest craze that is here to stay, BIG DATA and data science, you have no choice but to know and do some basic programming. Perhaps the best and most recommended computer language for this right now is Python.

To learn how to use and write code with Python, check out the programming page.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Hydraulic Jump - Easy to setup, numerous options for research

Topic: Fluid Dynamics

The first section on the Experimental Research Ideas page is for Fluid studies. The reason for this is that there are many studies and situations one can dream up involving fluids that have not been studied in great detail, if at all. It is possible to look at past studies on fluid dynamics and think of different ways to 'tweak' the system that was studied and make it your own, original study. Perhaps my personal favorite is what is called the hydraulic jump.

The hydraulic jump has been studied for over a century, but because it involves turbulence, it is still not entirely understood. Turbulence, being a feature that involves random processes, is what allows fluid studies to have such a vast richness and variety, and each new discovery and observation is a contribution to the field. I cannot think of an easier experimental system for fluids to setup than the hydraulic jump. You literally see a jump every day of your life in sinks, bathtubs, or drinking fountains. When a stream of water lands on a hard surface, it flows outward in a smooth circular pattern, until suddenly the water lifts up, or jumps, to form a turbulent region. Don't get me wrong, while easy to create, a hydraulic jump is not easy mathematically - fluid dynamics is governed by the Navier-Stokes equations, which are presently unsolvable with exact solutions due to turbulence. Solving these equations numerically in computer simulations is the best we can do, and those theoretical studies have become very sophisticated. But a very rich set of experimental options is what we are after!

The novel research possibilities now become possible once you have a setup in your basement or kitchen, where you have a water source that can fall in a smooth stream or 'jet' onto a surface. The best way to collect measurements and other data is through video techniques. Be sure to have a grid and/or rulers in the video or photos in order to calibrate and scale for distance measurements. One can get radial and height measurements from video and digital photos, using software such as Tracker or LoggerPro, which many schools have; Tracker can be downloaded for free.

There are several student studies and papers serving as examples on the Experimental Research Ideas page, for certain types of hydraulic jump studies. Check those out for details on experimental setups and procedures. All of the following will be similar in their design, but differ in the physical situation that might affect the jump. We have not found any formal or detailed studies of these in the literature. Almost all of the suggestions below could be done in a combination of qualitative and quantitative studies. It is suggested that for quantitative studies, make plots of data and obtain fits for varying the variable quantity versus the radius of the jump, trying to develop an empirical formula for the radius that may be added into accepted mathematical models for the hydraulic jump.


  • A basic study involves creating a stationary hydraulic jump on a flat surface, and find the relationships between the radius of the circle that forms and the flow rate, type of surface (materials, with different coefficients of friction), height from which the water stream falls, and even the viscosity of the fluid (try other liquids in addition to water). These studies have all been done over the years, but can be replicated if you just want to try the experimental setup and is also good for calibrations with past studies.
  • Effect of a tilted surface on the jump structure; try a wide range of angles, is there a mathematical relationship one can find that fits the shape of the jump on inclines.
  • Study of the interactions between multiple hydraulic jumps - have multiple streams/jets on the same surface at different distances between the jumps; can have each jet with the same or different flow rates. We have done this with two jumps, but try any number of jumps and see what patterns are created.
  • Multiple jumps, but with different fluids - how are patterns affected when different fluids interact
  • What does a jump look like and behave if the jet is a mix of two or more fluids? Could have two pipes with two different liquids flow together to make a single jet.
  • The effect of having obstacles in the laminar portion of the flow on the surface, which allows for numerous studies just by varying the size, shape, and number of obstacles. Could also put obstacles in the region where the jump occurs and study what happens. For instance, obstacles just before, inside, and just outside the radii range of where the jump is forming. The obstacles could be small enough to be under the fluid surface or taller so it breaks through the surface.
  • Effect of scratches in the surface on both the laminar and turbulent flows of the liquid. 
  • Effect of the jet landing on a 3-D surface rather than a flat, 2-D surface. Are there still hydraulic jumps? What conditions must exist for a jump to form on a 3-D surface? Could try curved surfaces, funnel-shaped, pyramid shaped, and so on. 
  • Effect of surface temperature on the jump.
  • Polygonal jumps using viscous fluids (see a highly technical article).
  • Jumps created on vertically oscillating surfaces; or jumps created on a 'see-saw' oscillating surface.
  • Jumps on horizontally oscillating surfaces.
  • Jumps created on rotating surfaces.
  • If you have access to high-speed video, the time evolution of a hydraulic jump - film it from when the jet hits the surface and examine how the fluid flows outward and watch the formation of the jump.
  • Does a jump form if there is a thin layer of stationary liquid sitting on the hard surface? What if the layer and jet are two different liquids?           
  • Project a stream horizontally onto a vertical surface/wall, is there anything resembling a hydraulic jump? Investigate the properties of whatever pattern/structure forms.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Vertically-vibrated Granular Studies

Topic: Granular Materials

Granular materials are interesting because they can show properties of both fluids and solids. The classic example is sand, but it can be any sample of a bunch of (usually small) grains, or particles, that are of course solid. Researchers have used small beads, pepper, salt, peas, rice, and so on. Think of something like an avalanche, where individual small solid objects 'flow' down the incline - here, solid objects collectively show something more like a liquid flowing.

A really interesting phenomenon happens when one vertically vibrates granular materials. When one does this with small bronze beads or sand, there are certain combinations of frequency and amplitude where a variety of patterns appear. These patterns always remind me of interference patterns of liquids. Small piles that also form patterns also appear, called oscillons.

In order to oscillate granular samples, one can purchase a mechanical oscillator from a variety of supply companies, such as PASCO, Arbor, and others. Many high schools may have some version of this to form mechanical waves on strings or to vibrate Chladni plates. These go for under $200. To drive the oscillator requires function generators; there is a simple sine wave generator from PASCO that goes for $270, or a more robust function generator that is more expensive at around $700. Some people have used speakers to create vibrations. Granular samples can be placed in petri dishes that are attached to the oscillator.

The vibrated granular experiments can be done easily in a school lab or in a student's basement or bedroom! Data collection is most easily done with video techniques. Be sure to have a ruler or some size standard to measure distances, radii, heights of piles (with a camera with a side view of the material).

Research Ideas for vibrated granular materials:

  • Classic crating oscillons and multiple patterns by vertically vibrating sand, small beads, bronze powder, or any other granular material. You can vary size of grains, size of container being vibrated, frequency and amplitude combinations, depth of granular materials, mixtures of different sized grains. (an example)
  • Patterns in granular materials at high frequencies (an example)
  • Patterns that form when experiment is inside a vacuum, or as a function of air pressure if one has a bell jar and vacuum pump
  • Behavior of vertically vibrated piles of granulars; any pattern formation and/or avalanching
  • Observations and search for patterns/pile formation/avalanching when granular material is falling onto a vertically vibrating surface (compared to a stationary surface).
  • Patterns of vertically vibrating granular materials when the experimental setup is rotating
  • Patterns of vertically vibrating granular materials when the experimental setup is on a pendulum, or moving (accelerating) horizontally.
  • Pattern formation as a function of moisture/dampening of the granular material (such as wet sand; different levels of wetness)
  • If multi-sized beads/grains, is there any stratification or segregation of beads when vertically oscillated 
  • Mixing properties of the layers of grains when vibrated; if you have different colored sand, for example, make layers by color, and then find out how the mixing takes place among layers. (an example)
  • Search for any horizontal movement/drifting/mixing while vertically vibrating. (an example)
  • Effect of barriers, compartments, or obstacles in the container on the pattern formation of the vibrated granular materials
  • What happens if a granular sample is vibrated back and forth horizontally?



Thursday, July 20, 2017

Research Proposals - What should we consider to do good research?

Research Proposal Format

Below is a brief outline of the main format for a typical research proposal. Use it as a guide to determine what your specific research topic will be, and follow the timeline in order to make good, steady progress over the next few months so you can make the most of your effort.

¨      Proposed research question: this needs to be as specific as possible in whatever field of study you choose.  Depending on which area of science you choose to work, you and an ETHS faculty research advisor will sit down to determine how realistic your topic of interest is.  It is imperative early on to determine whether your research can be done at ETHS or if you will need to make outside contact with a research group (e.g. at Northwestern).  You and your advisor will also have to estimate how much of a time commitment is likely to carry out your project. 
¨      Brief descriptive title of proposed research: a direct statement of your research goal.
¨      Reason for research: Why is it important to find an answer to the question? 
¨      Background information on your topic: Provide a summary of information you have found concerning your topic.  Think of things like the research that has already been done in the field, questions remaining from any prior research, brief highlights of any theory(ies) that may exist to explain the phenomenon, etc.  You must show that you have looked through the literature and have found the latest updates in your area of study.  Normally people don’t get funded if they are ‘reinventing the wheel.’
¨      List of References relevant to your topic: keep a running list of all references as you work through the literature.  You will be required to have this list for your final paper, and chances are you will need to go back to certain references throughout the entire research experience.  This includes all textbooks, reference books, journal articles, Internet sources, private communications with teachers or professors, etc.
¨      Any hypothesis(ses) relevant to your research that you are specifically investigating: Describe/explain main points of what you expect to happen in your research based on literature research.
¨      Resources available to you already at ETHS: What equipment, library resources (such as journals, Internet availability, etc.), software, computers, and teachers are going to be available to you at ETHS.  Based on your literature research, it is important to focus on the methodologies and experimental procedures others have already used in your area of interest.  You will either be building off of what others have done or get ideas of other experiments you would like to do, but you need to think about the equipment necessary to investigate your question(s). 
¨      Other resources you think you’ll need to be able to proceed: From your literature searches, what other equipment/resources/software will you need to design an experiment?  Is it affordable (we do have some funds available for research materials)?  Again, this may limit the sophistication of your project dramatically, or even if your project is a possibility at all!  Think of any universities, industrial resources or donations, medical research facilities, national labs, etc., for possibilities.
¨      Potential costs for additional resources: This may or may not be easy to do; your faculty advisor will help with this.
¨      Proposed experiment: What design will it have?  What controls will be in place?  How will you measure relevant quantities?  What are some probable problems/uncertainties you can expect to deal with?  What expected levels of precision will your measurements and, therefore, results have?
¨      Timetable: What are your initial projections and expectations as far as the time needed to carry out the data collection and analysis?  If you are looking towards competitions, note the following approximate dates your report would be due:
Siemens-Westinghouse                      Late September
Regeneron STS                                  Mid-November
JSHS                                                   Late January
¨      Any other concerns for this research: Are live specimens (especially vertebrates) involved?  Any possible dangers (risk of explosions, gases, fire, electric shock, radiation exposure, etc)?  Basically, make a review of safety requirements that you might need to consider.
¨      After compiling and analyzing data, reach logical conclusions and write up a research report!  This is the goal.  By working systematically and consistently through this list, the sections of your final research report will be in place.  All that remains is to touch things up and put the sections coherently together for your report.


As you can see, there are many considerations and details you must think about to do sophisticated research.  This is why it is so important to develop good work habits and stick to a schedule as best you can.  You will be busy with classes (and your schoolwork still must come first), but with discipline and good time management there is no reason why you wouldn’t be able to complete a strong Intel-level project.  Your faculty research advisor will be around through the entire process to assist and encourage you through the difficult periods when everything seems to be going wrong, but the real  work is up to you.


Good luck!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Temperature distributions within container

For those interested in heat flow in air, there are some interesting experiments one can build to investigate such flow. These involve trying to determine temperature distributions within containers. A good example of a typical experimental setup, objectives, and analysis can be found here.

Most people would think of getting thermometers and placing them at various locations within a container, but do consider thermistors. These are simple devices that can be purchased from a number of companies online. To use thermistors, you actually measure the electrical resistance, which in turn is converted into temperature via some calibration curve or tables provided with those thermistors. These are also accurate devices, and are quite small so they do not significantly affect the heat flow of your experiment.

Keep in mind that it is possible to model the temperature distribution within containers, as was done in the example paper. A very good, user-friendly piece of software that is designed to solve partial differential equations (as in the diffusion equations for heat flow) is FlexPDE. It always makes for a strong project if theoretical predictions are compared to experimental studies.

Below are a number of ideas for research projects involving temperature distributions within containers:
  • size of the container
  • material from which container is made (makes for a good comparative study)
  • shape of container (same volume, different geometry)
  • location of heat source within the container
  • transparent top with external heat source
  • how heat distribution changes when just filled with air to having varying depths of water or other fluid inside the container
  • time-dependent heat source variation (heat source changing its temperature gradually over time)
  • different materials lining the walls of the container
  • temperature distribution with and without air currents in the container
  • temperature distribution with different objects inside the container: this then opens the door to numerous possibilities, where one could vary the size of the object; the material of the object; the number of objects, and then the distribution of multiple objects within the container
  • one could have multiple containers which are connected with tubing for heat flow between the containers; how does the temperature distribution change over time and space
  • depending on the material from which the container is made, does the external temperature have any effects? For example, if it is a metallic container, does the external temperature change the temperature distribution inside? What if one side sits on ice, and another side has a hot-plate attached?
  • relative humidity variations within the container
  • different air mixtures (with other gases) in the container
  • various objects of different materials within the container; these could be placed inside in symmetric patterns, asymmetric; could be used as barriers; point would be to see how air flow and temperature varies with obstacles/barriers, as well as materials absorbing heat, etc. This allows for large amounts of variation, and original work.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Drones could lead to all sorts of interesting, and original, local ecological studies!

With the cost of drones decreasing and their popularity soaring, this is good news for high schools and possible research projects and programs for teachers and students! Consider some options that exist now that did not just a couple years ago, and which will likely grab student attention and interest for possible science research projects:
  • Use of drones to study local areas of interest. Could include population studies of different types of animals, land coverage of different local plant species. Interesting studies could include doing this before and after a nearby construction project, and how that affects adjacent ecosystems. This could evolve into longer-term class/program studies, where students do the same counts year after year to measure any changes that occur. Drones have come down drastically in price, and could lead to all sorts of creative, novel studies like the ones mentioned! Be creative, think local - chances are a study you have in mind has not been done before, especially in rural settings. Check with your local town hall for records of what has and has not been done, do something original!
  • Drones can be used to study water flow patterns of local or regional areas, particularly for crops, nurseries, protected areas and nature reserves, and other areas of interest that require any controlled or regulated water flow for irrigation and/or drainage. Much research has been done on optimal irrigation patterns, for instance. But, if your local region has different landscapes, soil, plant species or crops, weather patterns, rotation of crops that require different water yields, or anything else that is different from previous studies, then you have a novel problem to research! Irrigation and water flow is an ongoing, never-ending process that is important to farming communities in particular, and something like this could develop into a natural long-term research project for teachers and their classes from year to year, where entire databases and studies are done. For any long-term studies, changes in patterns due to erosion, storms, snow and ice deformations to the landscape, and other geological features could also be relevant. Schools might contact state universities or water agencies to get ideas or become partners in studies. 
  •  Included in the drone studies could be ongoing chemical analyses of soil and/or any water sources within the defined ecosystem. Could also include biological studies of soil and water sources, for example doing counts of different insects and organisms within the sample. Do these measurements change over time? If so, what is driving the changes? Teachers could develop a robust, long-term research program around this type of work. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Why an Upgrade for the ETHS Theory Center?

Some years ago, ETHS participated in a national contest (SuperQuest) that gave open-ended problems to teams of high school students, and they had to then use computer models to come up with some type of solution. This was back in the early 1990s, when the first computers and BASIC programming came to U.S. schools. ETHS was a winner in that contest each of its five years, and winning schools received the latest workstations that were available. These computers were housed in a room that was called the "Theory Center," and students could use the computers for science research.

Now, we have a space (old storage room) in between our Chem-Phys classrooms, where students can do work, but also relax during a free period to relieve stress. There is also an old (dating back to the 1960s), relatively small lab section that is mostly unused at the moment, behind the Theory Center section. 

We want to upgrade this space, and transform it into a modernized Research Center for ETHS students. The working name for this is The Center for the Advancement of Basement Science, which is where CABS comes from.This space would allow opportunities for training and original work outside of professional labs, such as what are potentially available at Northwestern University.

But I have big ideas for this, beyond just ETHS students 
doing some projects. 

1) ETHS Research Opportunities: Yes, up to now, the past five or six decades has seen hundreds of student research projects and submissions to national contests. But these have all been done, almost to a person, by students in the Chem-Phys Program. And this is because the teachers who have dedicated large amounts of time to research have been the Chem-Phys teachers. A dedicated space for science research would allow students from any other classes to try something of interest, and also without the need of a professional lab. This may be in experimental work, if we are able to get the upgrades completed; or in the analysis of countless online datasets from various fields of STEM (such as those ETHS students have accessed in the past in astrophysics research); or in computational work, where students either write their own code for simulations or make use of professional packages for simulation research. The latter two types of projects are done in the computer portion of the facility. Yet another interesting possibility to develop is for some experiments that may need certain equipment that is not common in high schools - we can collect datasets and make those available, or even try to create several remote experiments where students can access the hardware online and collect data, much like our iLab radioactivity lab run out of Queensland, Australia.

2) Development and Publication of Research Questions & Resources for ALL: The most difficult part of the research process at any level, but particularly at the beginning high school level, is finding novel, doable research questions and ideas for students to work on. The vast majority of schools around the country (and globally) DO NOT have access to professional labs and expertise, nor equipment, to do advanced research. The thing is, there are a large number of possible original projects that can be done with basic, cheap, easily accessible materials, but most don't know about it. 

      We will develop these project ideas and research questions in the CABS facility, as well as online resources that will teach others how to do the research, so they can take it on. 

We already have interest from numerous professors and graduate students at NU and other institutions, who will help with the development of research questions, research techniques that are doable at the high school level, analytical tools and how to videos, ask a scientist resources, accessibility to online datasets and databases (and how to videos for access/analysis of those datasets), accessibility to online simulation packages and appropriate resources, and working with ETHS students so they may develop some of the resources and even collaborate with peers at other schools to teach them how to do the research. This will be especially relevant and important for rural and inner-city schools.

For teachers at these other schools who do not have research backgrounds and want to learn or develop new programs for their schools, we want to provide resources for them, too. 

We are not aware of anything available at the high school level that would provide resources for research at such an extensive level. 

I want ETHS and our students to lead the way for the tens of thousands of schools that do not participate in the highest level contests to have that opportunity - all that is required are a few curious students who want to try research, but have no idea how to go about it. We will help! This could affect schools around the nation and ultimately around the world! Yes, I want to go global with this eventually! I am fortunate to be involved with national and global education groups, with many colleagues interested in getting their schools into real science research!

We have collaborators lining up at universities, national labs, local STEM industries, and national organizations such as the Society for Science and the Public (SSP) that administers the Science Talent Search, to help develop these resources and online platform, and we are trying to get the funding necessary to make it happen. This movement also provides a unique outreach option for those professional research groups looking for funding, such as required by the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

3) A modern Communications System: To take this national and to go global with this work, a good communications platform is needed within the CABS facility. Whether it is communicating online with NU personnel as our high school students learn how to access data or do analysis, or having our trained students and teachers work with other students and teachers at other schools we are helping or collaborating with, or whether we are working on other projects with sister schools around the world (my classes already are working with schools in Australia and Malawi, and new efforts are in the works with schools/NGOs in India, with many more possibilities brewing). 

The hope is by having our Chem-Phys classes take the initial lead in these efforts, we will get more of our own students from other classes interested, excited and involved in any and all aspects of what is being described here. I am hopeful that this will help get more students of color and girls involved in more advanced STEM activities, and possibly even enrolled in Chem-Phys or our standalone AP Chemistry and Physics classes, as well as AP Calculus and Computer Science classes. I am hopeful that by working globally, our students and community become aware of various global issues, and possibly even work on the notion of having our students evolve into global citizens - gaining insights and understanding of other cultures, our similarities and differences, and actually communicating and sharing and learning from each other as we collaborate. This is how it already works at the professional levels of STEM, and to have this experience while still in high school would be incredible! 

Yes, this is all quite ambitious, but I firmly believe entirely possible!! Let's give it a go by developing the facility and resources necessary to make it happen - to have ETHS become a national and global leader in the way high school science works!!