By Oscar Wolfe
We all have those times where we just get super bored. We normally end up sitting around accomplishing absolutely nothing. Liz Heinecke can change that. She’s a microbiologist with a blog called Kitchen Pantry Scientist. She uses everyday items and turns them into spectacular science experiments. I had the pleasure of interviewing her and performing two amazing experiments with her. We magnetized a nail to turn it into an electromagnet and we did an experiment of Liz’s own invention: Foaming Slime. She’s also written two books: Kitchen Science Lab for Kids and her new one is Outdoor Science Lab for Kids. Both are filled with experiments you can do at home. Some of my favorites from Outdoor Science Lab are Super Spheres, Algae Aquarium, and Supercool Experiment. I hope this interview makes you want to try some science at home. It’s a great way to gross out your parents!
What got you into science?
My dad is a scientist. He always encouraged stuff we were interested in, and I always liked catching insects and frogs. No one ever told me girls don’t catch frogs. My parents just let me do it.
What is your education?
I have an art major, and a biology minor. I studied art and science. Actually, I started out studying music. I had trouble making up my mind.
How do art and music play a role in your life today?
I actually think having an art degree has helped me do things like design my website, and I still do some illustrations. I’m working on a kids book right now, and I won’t illustrate it, but I was able to draw out the concept so I can communicate with people using art.
For music, I play electric bass and banjo in a neighborhood band. And I sing.
Out of all the things you could do with your scientific knowledge, why did you choose to do a blog?
That’s really good question. I had little kids, and I was staying home with them. My friend worked at a store, and she asked me to write a blog for them, which was great – I had to figure out how to do it on my own. It was when blogs were just becoming popular.
Could you do science without the media, or media without the science, or do you need both?
Science is my specialty. I worked in a lab for 10 years, and I didn’t do any media. But it’s becoming more and more important to use media to share what you know. The public doesn’t always like science or understand science. Scientists are learning that it’s really important to be able to communicate well with the public what they’re working on. Not only does it help people understand the world around them, it also helps people understand that science is important.
What is your favorite field of science and why?
I like biology. I really like studying animals. The variety of life on earth really fascinates me.
What do you see for the future of your career?
Teaching science through telling stories. And I have an idea for a really cool computer game. I’m also working on a children’s book—it has to do with bacteria.
I like bacteria. I’ve been reading A Brief History of Time. Tiny things are so cool.
They are cool, aren’t they? That’s why I got interested in microbiology. And I especially liked infectious microorganisms. It’s almost like a battle between the human body and the organisms.
That’s how I picture it! Like, when I was really little I used to picture my bacteria in little suits of medieval armor attacking the evil horse cough people.
You’re kind of right. We have good bacteria and bad bacteria. If you think about our body’s immune system, and the bad bacteria, your armor analogy is a good one. Your body has weapons, and the bacteria has weapons. And they’re basically fighting a war with each other. I worked in a lab where we were trying to figure out a certain fungus that was making people sick. If you can figure out the weapons…
You can figure out how to destroy them!
Totally. You might be a microbiologist some day.
I told you I was reading A Brief History of Time. So it brings up a lot of questions that my parents can’t answer. Where would you suggest I get answers to those questions? Like, the theory of relativity. Why does the speed of light have anything to do with it?
Wow. that’s a really great question. Just remember, that’s not your mom’s focus, and it’s been a really long time since we were in school! University websites are often good. Government agencies are great for microbiology, like the Center for Disease Control. It’s amazing how accessible a lot of scientists are online. I bet if you tweeted a question, there are a lot of scientists who would answer it.
What would you say is the most useful ingredient in your experiments?
Can I say two? I’m going to say baking soda and vinegar.
What is the best non-mess type of experiment?
A lot of the physics experiments less messy than chemistry. More rolling balls down ramps. I’ll show you a good magnetic experiment.
Now the total opposite of that question: What’s the best way to gross out your parents?Make homemade petri dishes and go around the house and culture bacteria off different things. See what grows. It’s fun!
How do you think science could be more fun in schools?
I think it needs to be more hands on.
Yes! I would agree with that. So…what is your favorite experiment?
That’s really hard. Anything with red cabbage juice. It’s an acid-based indicator. It’s really just cool to play with. Although…no—say Foaming Slime. It’s my new one I just made up.
Who is your favorite scientist and why?
The first scientist I was really inspired by as a kid was Barbara McClintock. She discovered jumping genes, which are called transposable elements. She was a woman scientist back before there were many famous women scientists. And she made me interested in genetics.
Who is your role model and why?
My mom. She is really creative. She’s not a scientist, but she’s a really good cook, she taught me how to not be afraid to mix things together. How to understand why you add different things together to make something taste good. It’s kind of like science: if you understand why you’re adding things and how they work, then you can be creative. Good scientists are always creative, just like good cooks.
What advice would you have for anybody who wants to do something in science?
Don’t be afraid to mess up. You can’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes help you figure stuff out.
Follow Liz at kitchenpantryscientist.com