At this time of year, families gather around the sumptuous feast, give thanks for blessings from the previous year, and then play a game of football in the back yard or fall asleep while watching their favorite team on TV.
This year, Entelechy Education offers you a new look at the old traditions: the STEM associated with the holiday….
- How does the pop-up turkey timer work? The science of the pop-up thermometer is rather straightforward. A spring-loaded plunger holds a drop of soft solder in the down position. When the turkey heats up to 185 degrees Fahrenheit, the solder melts and the plunger pops up. The little device is encased in plastic to keep the metal from contaminating the bird. Turkeys should attain at least a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit for safety. It’s a system that works, but just to be sure, double-check with a traditional meat thermometer.
- Why do cranberries float? To understand why cranberries float, you need to do some math. When an object is less dense than water, which is 1 gram per cubic centimeter, it naturally floats. The formula for density is D=M/V, or density equals mass divided by the volume. The mass of one gram of cranberries is only 2.37 cubic centimeters because they contain a pocket of air. Now do the math: D = 1 / 2.37. Therefore, the density of the cranberries is 0.421 grams per cubic centimeter. And that’s less than 1, so they float! (This information can be found with other STEM topics and a recipe for Cranberry Orange Bread in our book, Everybody Cooks! STEM Facts and Recipes for Family Cooperation and Healthier Eating - Holiday Favorites Edition, available at our website.)
- Why do we see more wild turkeys? Turkeycology is the science of building the population of wild turkeys to their former glory during Colonial times. (Well, not really, but that was a fun composite word to coin!) Due to over-hunting, wild turkeys numbered just 30,000 in the early 1930s. In 1937, regulations and conservation practices began a reversal that continues to this day. For example, wildlife agencies trap wild turkeys where populations are flourishing and transfer them to regions with a suitable habitat but few birds. The wild turkey population now stands at about 7 million.
- Is it a sweet potato or a yam? Sweet potatoes and yams are not even related! They are two different species of root vegetables. There are two types of sweet potatoes, one with creamy white flesh and one with orange. All sweet potato varieties generally have the same shape and size — they are tapered at the ends and much smaller than yams. Yams are an African tuber that can grow up to five feet long! Americans have been calling the orange-fleshed variety of sweet potatoes “yams” since colonial times when Africans saw similarities to their yams. The USDA decided to label the yellow variety of sweet potatoes as “yams” to distinguish from the lighter variety. Most likely, your Thanksgiving side dish is the yellow variety of sweet potato labeled “yam” by the USDA!
- Why does bread have those little holes? Blame the yeast, a single-celled fungus that does amazing things to a batch of bread dough. Without the yeast, the dough would not rise. It would remain a doughy blob. However, when you add yeast to the mix, a chemical reaction occurs. The yeast consumes the sweetener (sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc.) in the dough. Then the yeast, like some other living organisms, excretes carbon dioxide. When the carbon dioxide is captured by the bread dough, little air pockets form. These air pockets cause the bread dough to rise to double its size. Don’t worry – the heat of baking the bread to make it into stuffing cubes kills the fungus before you eat your dinner! (This STEM tidbit is also in our book mentioned above.)
So, when you’re sitting around your Thanksgiving table, amaze your family with your knowledge of STEMSgiving trivia. And remember to not only say you are thankful, but do things that show your gratitude. Giving thanks every day, not just on Thanksgiving, is good for your health. Research shows that grateful people have more energy, sleep better, exercise more, have lower blood pressure, and are more appreciated by others. What are you thankful for?