the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Team WhyMommy’s Virtual Science Fair

I’m always complaining that Twitter is filled with inane conversations about nothing.   So how did I end up chatting with Susan of WhyMommy?  Sure, she’s funny and friendly, but did I mention that she is also an astrophysicist?   Uh, yeah.   Not intimidating.   Susan has also been active in raising awareness of cancer online, having faced inflammatory breast cancer in 2007.   Recently, doctors found a recurrence of the cancer.  Yesterday, she had surgery.

Stimey, the blogger behind Stimeyland, had a great idea — a way to send support to Susan, our friendly blogger/astrophysicist — A Virtual Science Fair!

From Stimey’s blog:

That is what Team WhyMommy’s Virtual Science Fair is all about. We want her to know that she is loved and supported. But we also want her to know that our love and support is not all because of the cancer. We love and support her because of who she is, not just because of what she has. She is not just a cancer fighter, but an incredible person, one who is passionate about science and especially women who do science.

Bloggers from around the country and, dare I say, world, have spent some time over the past few days doing science. We’ve done science with our kids or with our friends or by ourselves. And we are writing about it today to show Susan how she inspires us. How she is truly making a difference in lives all over the world by encouraging all of us to believe that we can be scientists, whether it be on the smallest, let’s-take-a-walk-in-the-park scale or the largest, I’m-going-to-get-a-degree-in-planetary-science scale.

Many of my regular readers will be surprised that I had a geeky attraction to science in school.  Classes in the humanities, such as English and social studies were easy.   I was in awe of the science students.  That is where the “real” geniuses lived.   Science geeks couldn’t bullshit the way through  assignments.  Only in an English class could you receive an A+ comparing Wang Lung, the main character in Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth,” to Theo, the Cosby son on “The Cosby Show.”  In science, you had to show the money.

Because of the seriousness of science, I yearned to be a science geek.   Science is strong and manly.  English is for pussies who like Romantic poetry.  But as much as I tried to pose as a scientist, I didn’t have the right stuff, either the discipline or the pocket protector.  I was a pussy who liked poetry.

In my junior year in high school, still in denial over my true self, I convinced my parents to send me to a special summer science program at Michigan State University.  They didn’t quite understand why I wanted to go; I showed no interest in science.  They bought me a microscope and “science kit” for Hanukkah, and I never took it out of the box.  My favorite place in the Museum of Natural History was the gift shop.  I never watched Nova on PBS, only reruns of Monty Python.  But I was determined to prove myself in science.   To be someone with stature.

I wrote about my summer science program at MSU in a blog post in 2005.  When my experiment went awry (I was trying to solve the world’s hunger problems by growing some crazy type of super-wheat), I did what any disreputable scientist would do — I faked the data.  It was a low point in my educational career.  It was during that infamous summer of science, that the facade crumbled.  I would never be a true scientist, like Galileo, Jonas Salk, or Susan of WhyMommy.  Science is searching for the truth, and I lived in a world of lies and made-up nonsense.  So, I became a writer instead.  Fuck science.  Who needs the facts?  If I tell you that my penis jumped off my body and took a walk to Burger King on his own, are you going to ask, “Show me the scientific evidence?!” Of course not.

For many years, I laughed in the face of science.  My jealousy turned to anger.  Poor little spineless scientists, I used to say, needing to check the facts.  Needing “controls.”  Pasty-faced data heads living in sterile labs while I sat poolside in Malibu, Playboy bunnies lounging at my side, as I dictated my latest Jerry Bruckheimer-produced blockbuster about a comet heading for Earth.

“What did you say, Mr. Scientist?  That one lone fighter jet piloted by Mack Higgins, retired Air Force ace (Bruce Willis) cannot shoot down a comet 500x bigger than Jupiter?  Why not?  A scientific impossibility?  Ha Ha!  Science nerd.  Who cares?  You and your FACTS!  Next thing you’re going to tell me is that there weren’t dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark!  Hey, Playboy bunny, I need my dirty martini re-filled!!”

But as I have become older, the anger against science has faded.  I have seen the importance of science.   There would be no hybrid cars or iphones or vaccines or internet without science!  We need science.  If the world was only filled with English majors, life as we know it would cease to exist.  The entire universe would just be sitting around at home complaining about not writing their novels.  It would be horrible.  Life would be brutish, short, and very very bitter.

Now, for the first time ever, I will say it publicly:  Thank God for science!  I might have failed as a scientist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the work of other great men and women.  One day medical science will cure cancer, and then we will all be REALLY EMBARRASSED for thinking Facebook was the greatest advancement in modern times.

Wait a minute.  What is this post about anyway?

Oh yeah, this post is supposed to be my entry in Team WhyMommy’s Virtual Science Fair.  I completely forgot about that.

My Science Fair Project is geared for the children — your children.  I am sure many of them are coming home from school, just like we all once did, asking the same questions, “Why do we need to learn these things?  When will we ever use geometry?  If I never intend to become a doctor, why study biology?”

The usual answer is “Shut the hell up and do it!”  But is that really the best response to your children?  Does it motivate our youth to learn science?


We need to show our children that learning math and science is important because it helps us THINK.  It allows us to SOLVE PROBLEMS, even every day things that we don’t usually associate with science.

For example —


Scientific question:  Can one of these sandwiches, sub-genus “Oscar Mayer Deli-Creations Complete Sandwiches” now selling at the 99 cent store, be made edible, by following a certain methodology, as outlined in the “directions” posted in the back of the box?

Hypothesis:  By following the methodology, I will have a very inexpensive lunch.


Step One  – Buy the Oscar Mayer Deli Creations “Focaccia Sandwich.”   Can the iterative process allow us to prove that this sandwich will be as Hot & Melty as postulated?

Step Two – Planning and Research.  Examination of variables involved.

Step Three  — After the “Italian Herb” Focaccia bread is split into two identical halves, the “bottom” element is arranged carefully in the rectangular “silver” microwave pan, which doubles as the part of the box containing the explicit directions and methodology of the process.

Step Four – Using a sharp tool known as a knife, the “steakhouse beef” is extracted from its plastic shell.

Step Five – The “Steakhouse Beef” is carefully arranged on the Focaccia bread, in such a manner, that at least 80% of the surface is covered with the meat.

Step Six – After carefully washing the “knife” to prevent contamination, the pepper ranch sauce is released —

— in liquid state, over the meat and bread.   It is essential at this point that, if you are using a lab assistant to help with the experiment, that you do not get de-focused by arguments over whether or not you are going to see a marriage counselor next week.

Step Seven — Repeat Step Six, using the Pepper Jack Cheese.

Remember, science is all about data and experimental technique.  Opinions and subjectivity, such as “This sandwich looks like a piece of ****” do not belong in the lab.

Step Eight — The other identical half of the Italian Herb Focaccia bread is reconnected, much like a strand of DNA, once again proving that even in science, there are still mysteries unexplained.

Step Eight — Well, let’s just say that the experiment got screwed up when an overzealous lab assistant placed the final variable into the OVEN rather than the microwave.

“The box said to put it in the microwave,” I said.

“It would be all soggy in the microwave.   It looks so much better now.,” replied the lab assistant.

“But I’m supposed to be doing a scientific experiment and following the directions.”

“So, lie.  Isn’t that what you always do when you do a science experiment!”

Sigh.  I’m never going to live that down.


Yes, you can can make a sandwich from a package.    Would I consider this lunch?  That I’m not sure about.

Heal fast, Susan!


  1. Kate @ UpsideBackwards

    Hilarious! I’m not convinced that’s actually food, though…

  2. Susan

    Neil, you had me at “geeky attraction to science.”

    It’s too bad your professors let you get away with faking the data in high school — and even more so that they didn’t teach you something even more important. A good experiment has a hypothesis. A GREAT experiment has a null hypothesis — so that even if the answer isn’t what you expected, you learn something. That way, even if your wheat doesn’t grow, you’ve learned something — for instance that that kind of wheat can’t be relied upon to feed the world.

    Funny thing, science. We teach children the rules so well and so often that sometimes we forget to teach how to channel every child’s natural curiosity into something productive. Even if it’s a null result.

    Or a lunchables sandwich.

    This was fun, Neil — thank you! I’ve enjoyed getting to know you on Twitter too!

  3. nita

    this made my day. and i love that we’re celebrating susan for “who she is, not what she has.”

  4. Sue @ Laundry for Six

    100% awesome!

  5. Stimey

    I think you proved your hypothesis. Or at least one of them. I think there were a lot of hypotheses in there. Did you make the lab assistant eat the sandwich? That seems only fair.

    Great post! Very funny stuff. Thanks so much for participating in the science fair!

  6. magpie

    I love where you went with this. Nicely done.

  7. middle-aged-woman

    Neil! That was such a sweet thing to do! Sophia’s crazy if she lets you go.

  8. Quadelle

    This is the sort of science I can get my head around – and have a good laugh with at the same time. Great piece!

  9. NeCole

    Thank you for that tribute to science and your friend Susan. I always thought guys with pocket protectors were hot! As a result, I developed my own love of science and became a biologist. A smart, geeky man was always my biggest turn-on and because of that, I married an engineer. Contrary to popular belief, nerds rarely have trouble getting a girl.

  10. Denise

    Oh Neil, as always this has your stamp of originality on it. You’re quite the guy. Hope that experiment went down well.

  11. Michele

    I wouldn’t eat that sandwich, but this post is adorable as always.

    Plus, I hope your lab assistant was at least wearing hot pants.

  12. slouchy

    Still laughing. I loved this.


    My favorite place in the Museum of Natural History was the gift shop.

    Both my boys would say, “Well, of course!”

  13. Jack

    Nicely done- now I am hungry. 😉

  14. angelynn

    I for one am glad you decided to write. This was a beautiful post. The sandwich, not so much. What a wonderful idea. I sometimes take for granted the many opportunities I have each day to teach my 2 & 4-year-old sons about science. I’m on the artsy side too, but they don’t have to be.

    I loved Susan’s comment “A good experiment has a hypothesis. A GREAT experiment has a null hypothesis — so that even if the answer isn’t what you expected, you learn something.”

    I learned a lot from you both.

  15. amanda


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