Mom, can I take my molecules along, so I don’t get bored?

Coffee with dichloromethane and ammonia. Just kidding! It’s Simon, who turns everything – even a trip to the gluten free bakery on a terribly rainy day – into a science lesson.


Amsterdam Light Festival

Simon’s first long boat trip, to see all the artwork presented at the Amsterdam Light Festival this year. Pleasantly surprised at how many pieces were inspired with his favorite themes (glass fiber, RGB perception, string theory, neural networks).

This photograph seems to convey the essence the artwork! It’s about string theory, and when you move relative to the piece the strings flicker (vibrate). Try scrolling up and down and you’ll see the same effect!

Behind the scenes

This is a behind the scenes video (Simon wasn’t even aware of me filming at first, but he always talks to himself when working out a proof, so that helps). The video shows Simon looking for the number z if sin(z) = 2. He watched this problem explained on the Blackpenredpen channel once, then marched into another room (where he has his whiteboard) and started trying to construct the solution on his own. His solution was partially based on what he saw in the working out shown by Blackpenredpen and partially he worked out the proof himself (and it just happened to coincide with that of Blackpenredpen). He only briefly consulted the explanation video three times while working on the proof. “My proof expanded some steps out so it’s clearer where I’m coming from,” Simon says.

Here is a picture of the work done:

And some pics of the working out in progress:

Simon at first made a mistake in his definition of ln(i):

But later he corrected himself, and that’s the part you can see in the video.

How Simon Learns

Screen shot of Simon’s desktop

This is how Simon learns: I watch him as he discovers a new math resource on YouTube (the Blackpenredpen channel). Then his math tutor (a high school teacher Simon has become huge friends with) comes. Simon stops watching the Calculus video on Blackpenredpen and starts showing his math tutor all the new toys he got from St.Nickolas (a Dutch tradition in November-December) and invites him to join him for a set of splashy Physics demos involving water, funnels and beakers. An hour later, Simon is completely wet but gleaming with joy. He didn’t get to do any Khan Academy practice with the tutor and I don’t mind. The same evening I notice Simon get completely absorbed by the Calculus tutorials on Blackpenredpen. He is watching the videos and simultaneously reading up on Integration Rules on the Mathsisfun website, because integration is not yet his forte. He spends about an hour or an hour or two completely engaged. I don’t rush him to go to bed because he has this flow going on. At some point I see him switch to an “easier” physics video. That’s the moment for me to say: “Should we go read in bed now?” And off we go, to take another dive into our current bedtime book, “17 Equations that Changed the World” by Ian Stewart. We are reading about the wave equation now, and thus about how Hooke’s Law has influenced Western music harmony. Simon fetches his elastic bands and string to do one more demo before going to sleep.

Science Day in Belgium

Yesterday we attended one of the hundreds of Science Days venues open for free all over Belgium. Simon particularly enjoyed chemistry demos, even though he was disappointed that some companies showing their inventions didn’t want to share the actual formulas behind the tricks.

The simple non-newtonian fluid remains a favourite.

Making your own bath bombs.

Simon dazzled by how insulator foam (polyurethane) is produced as the result of a reaction between two highly viscous substances, an isocyanate and a polyol (polyether). Another fascinating thing about this demo was that the tool mixing the two ingredients actually employed magnets!

A workshop explaining why ships don’t sink and if they do, why:

Exploring 3D printing:

Programmable spheres:

Heat indicator (material changing color depending on water temperature):

The good old baking soda and vinegar demo revisited:

On IQ tests

In AI there’s this concept of dimensionality reduction, which reduces a lot of dimensions to three or less dimensions (however you lose a lot of information through that). IQ tests are basically a very, very, very glorified version of dimensionality reduction.

DNA stores zetabytes of information (one zetabyte is already 1000 to the power of 7, a sextillion bytes). OK, 99%is just telling that you are a human, but there’s still very much left and, as you can probably see, it’s still way, way, way too much to be reduced to a single number.


Simon is seriously enjoying his new Molymod chemistry modeling sets and has been obsessing about which set contains what atoms and bonds.

Alcohol (Ethanol):

Hurray! We have just built 7,333333333333 x 10^-9 of the human DNA:


Some like the football, Simon plays with the buckyball, or Buckminsterfullerine, made up of 60 carbon atoms:

Why Cookies Get Bigger in the Oven


Simon is baking Dutch traditional “pepernootjes” (“pepper nuts” or spicy cookies) and explains why they get bigger in size after you put them in the oven and what the optimal tiling pattern is to fit a maximal number of cookies on the baking sheet.

Upon waking up

Simon said today upon waking up: “If a Physics constant suddenly popped up in pure mathematics, that would be really weird. If there is more than one universe, that would mean either that mathematics only exists in this particular universe, or that one of the laws of physics in our universe would go through mathematics to all other universes in existence. So for example, the speed of light would be the same in all universes, or Planck’s constant”.