October 11, 2011 in Space

The brilliance of the sun illuminated the minds of Ms Breton’s 3rd grade class at École FACE School on Wednesday the 2nd of December, 2009, thanks to MoL Team Sun Science, Raja Tahan (BSc Biochemistry student, U Montréal) and Tanya Khawam (BSc Biochemistry student, U Montréal). Because the sun is such a large topic, with a diameter of about 1,392,000 kilometres (865,000 mi, about 109 Earths!), Raja and Tanya prepared four posters and lectured and responded to many, many questions about the sun as an energy source, the composition of the sun, the spectroscopy of sun light and general information about the sun. The 3rd graders had already a good understanding of the usefulness of solar energy which some had already seen harnessed to power calculators. They recognized that the sun is an important source of energy on earth needed for plants to grow and make food by photosynthesis. Raja explained that the sun is made mostly of superheated hydrogen gas particles, which collide at the center of the sun, under the intense pressure from gravity, and undergo nuclear fusion producing helium atoms and tremendous amounts of heat and radiation. Tanya discussed how the four seasons and their length depend on the elliptical orbit of the earth, which moves on a tilted axis to its orbital plane around the sun, such that different amounts of sunlight are received at different parts of the planet during the different times of year. The rainbow spectrum of sunlight, which is sometimes seen after a rain storm was mimicked using a prism to diffract a band of white light from a ray box. Like the rain water, the glass of the prism can change the speed of light, which may be refracted at different angles, such that light of different energy leaves the prism as different colors, creating the rainbow effect. Filled with sun energy radiating in a rainbow of colors and given craft materials, the students exhibited their own brilliance and created portraits of the sun. All thanked MoL Team Sun Science for shining their way.

For a visual perspective on size of the sun relative to other planets and stars, see:
For some educational videos (in English) about the Sun see:
For Sun basics:
For NASA’s view of the Sun:

Raja and Tanya leading a brilliant discussion about the sun.

Some uses of solar power.
Replying to questions on the Sun.
Observing the prism diffract white light dispersing it into a rainbow of color.
Crafting our own portraits of the sun.
Letting the MoL Sun shine all over.

Titan and Europa

October 6, 2011 in Space

On Wednesday, April 1st, 2009, the Molecules of Life Project voyaged “where no one has ever gone before” to the moons of Saturn and Jupiter stopping on Titan and Europa.  Guided by Université de Montréal Chemistry BSc student Alexandra Cadar and Concordia University Bachelor of Art Education student Catherine Chen, Ms Schuster’s 3rd grade class from École FACE School toured these moons in search of extra-terrestrial life forms, or at least the astrochemistry that suggests that there may be life there someday in the future.   Alexandra and Catherine led an interesting discussion on the atmosphere and chemical compositions of the moons and a comparison with those of Earth.  The students knew a lot about what is necessary for life on earth.  They were fascinated to learn that Europa consists of a smooth white ice outer crust  under which lies an expansive and very deep salt water ocean that surrounds a mineral core.  They recognized that water and oxygen, which are found on Europa, are essential for life.   Titan, they were told may resemble Earth several billion years ago, possessing simple organic molecules such as methane and volcanoes that spew  “lava” containing water and ammonia. They were interested to learn that the atmosphere on Titan consists almost entirely of nitrogen which is also the most abundant gas of the atmosphere of Earth (78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen).   But, how do scientists know what is on these moons which are hundreds of millions of miles away?  ”Spectroscopy” (the study of the interaction between electromagnetic radiation and matter) was described as the tool astrochemists use to study the moons, and the students showed their basic knowledge of radio waves, microwaves for heating, cats that see in the infra-red, the rainbow colors of the visible spectrum and X-rays which they had taken when they broke their bones.  With six volunteers, Alexandra showed that some molecules like caffeine which appeared white in visible light, glowed violet under a UV lamp.   Catherine then showed how the students could make a model of these moons using a grape for their core, jello of various colors to represent the compositions of the different atmospheres and a glass bowl for the icy outer crust.  Sculpting with jello, searching on maps of Saturn and Jupiter for the locations of their different moons and examining the spectrum observed for each moon, the students were very thankful to experience more astrochemistry care of Team Titan and Europa.


For more info and facts on Titan and Europa see:

What is the composition of jello, a hydrogel of edible proportions see:


October 6, 2011 in Space

Thursday the 3rd of December, 2009, Ms Breton’s 3rd grade classes at École FACE School took a trip to the moon, piloted by MoL Team Moon Science, Joanna Mansour (M.Sc. student, Sociology, U Montréal) and Dr. Tarek Kassem (Post-Doctoral Fellow, Chemistry, U Montréal).   Aided by a series of videos (see URLs below), Tarek and Joanna engaged the students in an interactive discussion featuring the many faces of the moon, the theory of its creation, Galileo, Neil Armstrong and of course moon composition, which although it is not made of cheese, like cheese, is rich in calcium.   On re-entry to Earth, Tarek mentioned the importance of friction, the force resisting the motion of solid surfaces, and how the friction of the earth’s atmosphere slows down the space ship creating heat.  The students were then asked to feel the heat created by the friction of rubbing their hands together.  They examined fluid friction by observing the speed of beads dropped into solutions of different viscosity (oil and water).  Sliding a block along books with different surfaces, the students recognized that rough surfaces, which have a higher coefficient of friction, slowed the motion of the block better than smooth surfaces.  Bringing concepts about the moon and friction together, Joanna taught the students how to moon walk like Michael Jackson.  The moon walk was performed with and without shoes to examine which surfaces caused the least friction and best allowed the dancer to glide appearing to float without friction as if on the moon. Exploring friction by rubbing their hands together, clicking their fingers together and moon walking, the students enjoyed being choreographed to dance in ways that were both fun and educational.  After one more moon dance with MoL, the students thanked team moon science for a fantabulous lunar experience.


For a video on the phases of la Lune see:

For a video on the distance to travel to go to the moon and the composition of the moon, see:

For a video on les éclipses, see: