Tag Archives: science

Fun Family Learning: Cupcake Core Sampling

How can we know what’s underground if we can’t see it? One method is core sampling.  I wrote a post about my experience taking sediment samples from the bottom of Long Island Sound, and this is just one example of a real life use for core sampling.  An easy way to model core sampling at home is with cupcakes.

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A sediment sample from the bottom of Long Island Sound. Note the distinct layers.


  • cupcake pan and liners
  • cake batter
  • food dye
  • frosting
  • clear straws


All you need to do is whip up your favorite cake batter and separate it into about 5 bowls.  Use food coloring or a natural dye to make 5 different colors, then spoon each color into your lined cupcake pan.  Be sure to vary the layers so each cupcake is different.  Bake the cupcakes, then allow them to cool and top them with your favorite frosting.

Use a clear straw to take core samples.  Children can choose to use a coordinate system for their holes or may prefer to wing it.  As they pull up each sample, they should note the colors present.  After they’ve taken samples, they can guess what the cupcake will look like or even draw a picture.  Then cut the cupcake in half and see how what it looks like.  Did you drill enough holes? Were the layers in the order you expected? Finally, go ahead and eat the cupcake!
  • Use a foil or opaque cupcake liner and cover the whole top with frosting so you really can’t see any of the colors.
  • Bake strawberries, blueberries or chocolate chips into the cake to play the role of fossils.
  • You will need to make the batter very dark so the layers will be obvious in the straws.
  • The layers will compress a little as you push down on the cupcake, so you may not be able to tell their relative thickness.

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This post is part of my Fun Family Learning series.  Please let me know what you think about it and feel free to request a future topic!


Filed under Food, Fun Family Learning, Natural Learning, Recipes

Sediment Sampling in the Sound

My “Analytical Techniques and Instrumentation” class spent today out in New Haven Harbor taking sediment samples. 

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We took a boat from the Sound School, a public/magnet high school in New Haven that has a focus on aquaculture and marine studies.

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Here’s their boat, the Sound Rover.

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Here’s part of the Sound School.  It’s built right on the water with its own pier.

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We selected sampling locations on a map of the harbor.  We tried to cover areas that we suspected to be especially contaminated, as well as areas that we hoped would be clean.  In the lab, we plan to test for iron, copper and zinc.

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One of the areas we chose to sample was under the Quinnipiac Bridge.  We expect to find contaminants here since I-95  is right above.

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We also sampled the sediments near the terminals, where petroleum and other materials are emptied from huge boats.

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Here’s an oil tanker.  Other areas we hypothesize will be contaminated are near a wastewater plant, storm drains, a marina, and a dredged area.

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Here’s lighthouse park, an area that we hope will have little contamination.  We’re also hoping the commercial oyster beds we sampled will be clean, as well as the area outside the breakwaters.

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The New Haven skyline.

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We used this ponar grab to sample the sediments at the bottom.  Metals settle out of the water into the sediments, which is why we’re not testing the water.

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Here’s one of the sediment samples that we collected.  You can see the distinct layers in it.  We had to be careful to clean everything thoroughly between sampling to avoid cross-contamination.

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Back in the lab, we prepared the samples to go into the drying oven over the long weekend.  When we return to class on Monday, we’ll begin to test for iron, zinc and copper.


Filed under Outside, Sustainable Living

Back to School…

After three whole days of vacation last week, which were dominated by Annabelle’s new baby, I headed back to school today.  I’m taking a course in my Environmental Education program called “Analytical Techniques and Instrumentation.”  In the next two weeks, we’re going to learn how to test samples for contaminants, visit New Haven Harbor to take sediments to test for heavy metals, test our own tap water, and visit one of the Thimble Islands off the coast of Branford to study the rocky intertidal ecosystem.  In addition, we’re going to set up and maintain a salt water aquarium and monitor for a variety of different factors.  I’m excited that I’ll actually get to learn how to do all the chemical testing I’ve been reading so much about, so when I see results published in journals or in the news I’ll be able to understand them better.  Today was introductory lab stuff, practice using balances, pH meters, micro-pipets and the spectrophotometer.  It was a blast for a science dork like me.

After a busy day, I came home to see my hydrangeas wilting in the first real heat of the summer, even though I watered them this morning.  I went around to the back garden, where I left the hose this morning, and when I got there I saw a huge black snake going into a hole in my flower garden! I would estimate that it was five feet long.  I screamed for Ed and he killed it, but I have vowed to never weed in that garden again.  Now I’m off to do my homework!


Filed under Home, Sustainable Living