Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Liquid Gold Project - Monitoring Mother's Milk!

Monitoring mother's milk through ages and stages!

As some of you may know, our family of science awesomeness expanded over Christmas, as I welcomed our newest daughter Maizy Zinn into the world!

Hello World!

So of course, once I got settled into life as a parent of a newborn, I immediately started planning a science project...

While I was pregnant, I knew I would want to breastfeed after she was born. I knew that breast milk contains a ton of vital nutrients, and that the composition of the milk changes over time to meet the demands of a growing baby. I wondered... what would my milk look like under the microscope? It would be SO cool to see something that I made to feed my baby, so close like that! Further, I wondered, would I even be able to notice any changes if I looked at it again in the future?

Enter The Liquid Gold Project!

I decided that I would take a scientific approach to my curiosity and closely monitor my breast milk every month. I would carefully document my findings by photographing each sample, making sure to note any color filters used on the microscope**. I also wanted to compare it with formula, since we had been supplementing since birth with one or two bottles per day.

**Additional notes can be found at the end of this post pertaining to the colors of the photos.

With this first installment of The Liquid Gold Project, I'll be comparing the breast milk produced for my 2 1/2 month old infant, with the Similac Advance that we had previously used for supplementation.

Keeping in mind that breast feeding and formula feeding are sensitive topics for new moms, this post will be inherently supporting all moms who are feeding their babies. I want to celebrate how awesome it is that we all have and love our little babies, yet I also want to maintain an unbiased, scientific approach to the differences between breast milk and formula.

So, without further ado...

Breast Milk Under The Microscope!

It really IS Liquid Gold!
Well, the light shining through it is! This is unfiltered light shining
through the specimen on my American Optical microscope.

I took advantage of the opportunity of being a nursing mom, to do something I've been wanting to do for a long time... put my breast milk under the microscope! What I found was a veritable gold mine of water, fat, white blood cells, bacteria, protein chains, amino acids, enzymes, and more. Of course, in the above picture, you can't see many of these things as they are far too small! What we can see are water droplets, fat, and a smattering of white blood cells. Still, this was amazing! This nutrient packed goodness was something I made, and it was incredible.

When I saw this picture, I immediately shared it with my group of close mommy friends. From there, it made its rounds on Facebook with everyone from individual moms to huge breastfeeding support groups sharing this photo! It even got picked up by trendy blogs like Cafe Mom's The Stir and Mommy Page! Suddenly, there were moms all over the world, taking pride in the incredible things our bodies can do. I mean, we grew babies, brought them into the world, and now we can feed them! And we did it all from scratch! It was amazing to feel so empowered and to share these feelings with so many people!

After looking at breast milk under the microscope, I wanted to take a look at formula as well. We had been supplementing since birth, and I was really curious to see how it compared at a microscopic level.

Formula Under the Microscope!

Using the same lighting and same microscope, this is a look at infant formula!

What I found was fascinating! Instead of the uniformed structure found in breast milk, I saw tiny particles that seemed to have been broken down into smaller chains. I also found quite a few little solid clusters of formula that wouldn't have been noticed by the naked eye, but were apparent under the microscope. These happened regardless of how I prepared the samples (swirled, shaken, or stirred)!

What's The Difference?

To me, these samples looked very different from each other. I was curious as to why that was, so I did some research to find what each food is made of. What I found was equally fascinating! I spent a long time looking through research articles so I could understand what components make up breast milk and formula, but even more than that, I wanted to understand what these things do. I've listed the composition of both breast milk and formula below...

Breast Milk Nutrient Content:

Fats (Neurological development, energy, tissue growth)
Lactoferrin (mainly in colostrum, these proteins work to prevent the survival and growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi - essentially immune system machines for newborns!)
Antibodies and White Blood Cells (these are the defenders of the immune system!)
Proteins (These are used for cellular function, immune system function, structural function (tissues!), metabolism, and more! Some of these proteins are really cool. Three of them, when introduced to stomach acid, unfold, and bind to form a protein complex called HAMLET which kills tumor cells!)
Carbohydrates (provides energy for all bodily functions)
Vitamins (A, B1, B2, B6, B12, D, and iodine)
Minerals (calcium, phosphorous, sodium, potassium, iron, zinc, and more)
Sodium Chloride (helps nerves fire messages along the body, helps intestines absorb nutrients, helps balance water and acids in the body)
Potassium Chloride (helps nerves fire messages off in the body, maintains integrity of cell membranes, vital for brain functions)
Immunoglobulin A (a very important antibody present in the mucus linings of our body responsible as a first line of defense )
Urea (carriest waste and deals with water absorption!)
Uric Acid (antioxidant and electron donor!)
Creatine (creates ATP, which is a nucleotide used by cells for energy. ALL CELLS use this)
Creatinine (creates energy for muscular and neurological functions)
Amino Acids (these are used to build proteins!)
Nucleotides (these are the building blocks of DNA!)
Sugar complexes (including Oligosaccharides, which are complex sugar chains. These are ONLY found in human breast milk - nowhere else in nature!)
Bacteria (as many as 600 different strains, aiding in digestion and other bodily functions!)

Formula Nutrient Content:

Proteins (used for cellular function, immune system function, structural function (tissues!), metabolism, and more!)
Fats (in the form of vegetable and fish oils - for neurological development, tissue growth, and energy)
Cows Milk* (processed to reduce casein content (a complex protein chain that in large quantities, is difficult to digest) and increase whey content to make the ratio more similar to human milk)
Linoleic Acid (an omega-6 fatty acid, essential for cognitive development)
Vitamins (A, C, D, E, K, B1, B2, B5 B6, B12, Iodine)
Niacin (assists in metabolism of cells, and removal of toxins from the body)
Folic Acid (assists in producing and maintaining new cells, also assists in retaining purity of DNA and helping to prevent mutations which may cause cancer)
Minerals (calcium, zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, phosphorous)
Sodium Chloride (helps nerves fire messages along the body, helps intestines absorb nutrients, helps balance water and acids in the body)
Potassium Chloride 
(helps nerves fire messages off in the body, maintains integrity of cell membranes, vital for brain functions)
Carbohydrates (provides energy for all bodily functions)
(these are the building blocks of DNA!)
Emulsifiers and Stabilizers (these break down fats into smaller pieces and prevent the separation of oils and water in the forumula)
Diluents (a filler, usually a form of skim milk, or water in milk free formulas)

*In cases of milk allergies, some infants may use soy milk, hydrolized, or amino acid based formulas instead.

As I read through the research articles linked above, I found that breast milk contains a plethora of nutrients that change not only according to the age of the baby, but also by the time of day, the mother's surrounding environment, her genetics, her pre-existing bacterial colonies, and of course, her diet. Breast milk contains nutrients that are synthesized directly from chemical reactions within the body, as well as antibodies and proteins that can be found nowhere else in nature!

Infant formula contains nutrients that are added to provide as close of a match as possible to the nutrients that are found in breast milk (and are often very successful!). While it lacks some of the components that breast milk contains, research is under way on how to include even more! Currently, research is being done on the benefits of adding probiotics to formula, in an attempt to match up to some of the bacterial benefits of breast milk.

There were some other interesting things that I saw in the formula as well. No matter how I prepared the samples (by shaking, stirring, or swirling the powdered formula into warm water), these air bubbles could be seen.

This unaltered image of Similac Advance For Supplementation under the microscope
shows the presence of small clumps of solid formula
as well as microscopic air bubbles.

I found that shaking the formula yielded the largest bubbles, while stirring and swirling yielded smaller bubbles. The presence of air bubbles have been suggested to cause increased discomfort and digestive issues with babies. However, there are products on the market and methods of preparation that can possibly help.

These air bubbles were produced by shaking the formula to mix it.

All in all, it was fascinating to get such a close look at what I've been feeding my daughter! The breast milk truly looks beautiful under the microscope, and I am still blown away by the fact that I MADE THIS! It's incredible, what the components of breast milk do for a baby. From the building blocks of DNA, to firing messages off along her nervous system, to providing a unique bacterial metropolis inside her body, as well as a first line of defenses against foreign invaders, this incredible nourishment we provide is as incredible as it is invaluable. It truly is Liquid Gold!

In regards to formula, science has come a long way in its understanding of what our babies need to grow and flourish. Research continues to this day on how to incorporate beneficial bacteria, vitamins, and additional proteins and amino acids into a baby's diet. We still have more to research, and there are some things that will only be found in human breast milk, but we're improving all the time and our babies are much better for it!

No matter how we do it, feeding our babies is a wonderful bonding experience. We're all moms out here, trying to do what's best for these little people we love the most. Moms of the world, take pride in this beautiful unique substance you have created. Be proud of the science that has your back and is constantly striving to add more and more vital goodness to your baby's body and brain!

We should all take a good look at ourselves and know that no matter how we feed our babies, we ALL are working hard to nourish them with nutritious food as well as our mother's love, and for that we are amazing.

Moms, and Dads...


**All of the pictures in this post were taken with my smart phone, through the eyepiece of my American Optical microscope. There is no color filtration added either digitally, or with color filters on my microscope. The color differences, as best as I can tell, occurred while I was taking the photos, by moving the phone away and closer to the eyepiece of the microscope.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

It's the Grand Opening of the Halle Heart Children's Museum!

The American Heart Association's Halle Heart Children's Museum is hosting its Grand Opening this weekend in Tempe! Until recently, the Halle Heart Museum has only been open for school groups and organized field trips. However, thanks to a grant from Tempe-based Insight, Inc., this weekend marks the kick off of the Museum as it opens its doors to the public at large!

So, what is the Halle Heart Children's Museum? Well, it's an interactive, hands on museum, dedicated to teaching kids all about the heart, how it works, how it compares to the organs of other animals, and how we can take care of one of our most vital organs!

You'll find 8 huge sections in the museum, where you can explore the anatomy and mechanics of the heart, how exercise affects the heart, the effects of tobacco on the heart, and more! There is also a spacious theater, where you can see movies about how the healthy choices affect heart health, or how to recognize the warning signs of a heart emergency and how to call for help.

If you want to check out the Halle Heart Museum, here's the info!

For the Grand Opening: 
Friday February 6th from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
Saturday February 7th from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm

Regular Hours
Monday through Friday 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Saturday: 9:00 am to 2:00 pm

$5 for visitors aged 4 and older, free for kids 3 and under. On the days of the Grand Opening, the Halle Heart Museum will be giving FREE admission to those wearing red in recognition of The American Heart Association's National Wear Red Day!


2929 South 48th Street, Tempe, AZ 85282



In celebration of the American Heart Association and the public opening of the Halle Heart Children's Museum, we're hosting a giveway for four general admission tickets to the museum! All you have to do is leave a comment on this post, with something you or your kids know about the heart. The winner will be chosen at random by Friday, February 6th, at 12:00 pm. These tickets will be good for any visit, at any time!

Of course, if you want to prepare a human heart lesson ahead of time, you can always check out our model of a heart pump, and anatomical model of the human heart. You can also order a dissection kit from Carolina Biological Supply, and conduct your own heart dissection!


Monday, December 15, 2014

The Twelve Days of Science! Day 12: Marshmallow Explosions!

On the 12th Day of Christmas Science, my mommy made with me...
Exploding snowmen and marshmallow peeps!

For our final project in The Twelve Days of Science, we're taking a look at the science of marshmallows and experimenting with them! We have marshmallow snow people and candy cane peeps and as adorable as these candy critters are, they had better watch out! For we have been concocting some crazy plans of science and these little guys are not long for this world...

Before we get into our science experiments however, we need to take a look at what these marshmallows are made of! Consisting primarily of sugar, water, and gelatinous proteins, the molecular structure of these confectioner's delights is mostly open space. Essentially, marshmallows are made of fluffed up sugar water and held into place with gelatin. This allows them to have their puffy texture, keep a consistent shape, and have that sweet taste that many of us enjoy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Halloween Science: Goblin Eggs!

It's about to get messy in here!

Halloween is my favorite time of year and it's a great time for science! From sticky slime to shrunken heads, it's a fantastic time to get messy and experiment with the world around you!

One of our favorite science experiments is the Naked Egg experiment. This is one of the first chemistry experiments we ever did, and we love it! The result can be a bit messy, but it's a lot of fun! When I had my niece over for Fall break, we tried it again. Only this time, we gave it a bit of a Halloween twist...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Let's Take A Trip Through The Digestive System!

We're going to make a digestive system cake, eat our digestive system cake, then...
DIGEST our digestive system cake!

It's an anatomy cake of SCIENCE!!!!

Today I'll share how we made our digestive system anatomy cake, took a blind taste challenge, and modeled the process of the digestive system! You can find the projects listed throughout this blog post (with a cake finale!), and links and resources at the end. But first, let's take a look at how the digestive system works...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

It's A Bat Tunnel Extravaganza With The Scientific Mom and AZ Game and Fish!

This post covers the epic turnout for our field trip to the Phoenix Bat Tunnel. For information on both Bat Tunnel locations, as well as further reading and educational resources, please scroll to the bottom of this page!

Bats emerging out of the 24th Street overflow tunnel in Phoenix.
Photo Credit: Eric Proctor, AZ Game and Fish Dept.
Ever since we found out about the urban colony of  Mexican Free Tailed Bats in Phoenix, Kat and I have gone every summer to check them out. Every year, between the months of May through October, we make our way to one of the downtown overflow tunnels to hang out with 10-15,000 Mexican Free Tailed Bats! Last year, we decided to invite our friends and fellow community members to join us. We had approximately 40 people come out to learn all about megabats, microbats, bat anatomy, echolocation, and of course, to see the colony of Mexican Free Tailed Bats as they took off to hunt for the night!

Our first field trip to the Phoenix Bat Tunnel was a great success!
Photo Credit: Devon Adams 2013

Last year's field trip went so well, we decided to make it an annual event. This time, my good friend Eric Proctor, the Wildlife Educational Coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, got involved with us and threw in some wonderful surprises! Not only would we invite our fellow nature lovers out with us again, but this year our presentation would include mummified bats, live bats, bat skulls and skeletons, and sonar listening devices that we could use to listen to the bats as they used echolocation to hunt at night!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

It's An Intergalactic Geek Extravaganza At Burton Barr!

Have you ever wanted to have story-time with Darth Vader? Have you ever wanted to meet real superheroes and find out where they got there powers from? Have you ever wanted to hang out with real Jedi Knights as you work to protect the galaxy?

Pretty In Pink
Darth Vader at Burton Barr Library
If you love Superheroes, Science, or Star Wars, then you're going to love what the Phoenix Public Library has to offer this month! As a part of their library card extravaganza, the month of September is going to be packed with all things geek! The only tickets you need to get in can be found on your library card! If you don't have a Phoenix Public Library card, do not fear! They can sign you up at the door (it's free!), as you waltz your way into the a geek's paradise.