Grade Level



General Science

Activity Type:

For This Science Club, We Want You to #TakeASample

Take a sample of a vast or complex thing to reveal something new about it:

  1. Find something that you want to learn more about but that is just too difficult to observe or describe completely.
  2. Observe, measure, or describe a portion or sample of that thing, and use the sample to answer a cool question about the whole thing.
  3. Share your sample and what you learned with the hashtag #TakeASample

Share your samples and what your samples revealed using:

  • Twitter – Tweet a picture or video with your samples @SciFri with #TakeASample
  • Instagram – Instagram a picture or video using #TakeASample
  • Snapchat – Send us a Snapchat @sciencefriday
  • Vine – Post a Vine of yourself sampling and what you learned using #TakeASample
  • YouTube – Upload a video of your project and include #TakeASample in the title, then send the link to scienceclub@sciencefriday.com
  • Tumblr – Post a picture and short explanation to SciFri’s Tumblr (click the check mark for #TakeASample)
  • E-mail us at scienceclub@sciencefriday.com

Starting with our on-air launch on April 15, 2016, we’ll spend a whole month featuring your samples—and not just what you sampled, but what question your samples helped answer. We’ll share your sample images and findings on our website at ScienceFriday.com/ScienceClub in our Science Club gallery. We’ll also visit with scientists as they do their own sampling, as well as share some of history’s extraordinary samples and samplers that have shaped how we view the world. On May 13th we’ll wrap up Science Club by highlighting some of your most impressive and interesting sampling feats on the live radio program.

Here are some highlights from our #TakeASample submissions so far:

Booger Sampling

Lahontan Cutthroat Trout

Students from Mrs. Reed’s K/1st Grade class talk about sampling Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. The project is a collaboration with Headwaters Science Institute, designed to get young children asking and investigating their own questions.


  • 6,011 Square Meters of School Yard

    Ms. Nolan’s 4th graders used GoogleEarth to estimate the size of their schoolyard, then counted sticks, caterpillars and trash in five random square meters. Based on their samples, they estimate there are over 46,000 sticks, 2400 caterpillars, and 6000 pieces of trash in the whole schoolyard! Photo by Tarmo Lampinen 

  • 7th Grader Sleep in a 5-day School Week

    Yala and Bella sampled 6 boys and 6 girls from the 7th grade to see how many hours of sleep students in their Spanish-immersion and English-language school communities get in a 5-day school week. The average? About 38 hours of sleep per week (with boys getting more sleep on average than girls).

  • Number of Eggs Laid by Six Chickens

    Mary recorded the number of eggs laid by six chickens each day for a week. On average, four eggs were laid per day by the six chickens, with the most (6) laid on Monday. Photo by fir0002

  • Extra Hours Worked by Teachers

    Alexandra from Beach School sampled the number of extra unpaid hours that teachers work at her school each week by conducting a survey. “I learned that most Beach School teachers work between 5 and 20 unpaid hours per week and the average number is 10.94”

  • Stitches in a Knitted Scarf

    A seventh grader from Portland, OR estimated the number of stitches in a hand-knitted scarf by determining the area of the scarf (231 sq in) and then counting the number in a square inch sample. “There are around 7,392 stitches in one scarf. That is A LOT of stitches!”

  • Stratospheric Sampling

    “Our sample is to collect air from the Stratosphere at 90,000 feet. We have programed an Arduino to open a collection bag to take a sample of stratospheric air from the Perlan 2 glider. Our hypothesis about our sample is the air will be different from the air closer to the surface…”

  • Tiger Paw Prints

    “My sample is an image of a Bengal tiger footprint. I head up a team of citizen scientists from SAS. We visit Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro, NC on weekends and collect footprint images of their tigers. The footprints contribute to a database from which a group called WildTrack extracts algorithms that can be used to identify and help protect individual wild tigers, by species, individual, sex and age-class. Photo by Kathleen Thomas.

  • water sampling equipment

    River Citizen Science

    Craig participates in two regular citizen science projects that sample water, and has for many years, the Neponset River Watershed Association (NepRWA) Citizen’s Water Monitoring Network (CWMN) Charles River Watershed (CRWA) Monthly Water Monitoring Program (one of the oldest water sampling programs in the nation). I have been involved with [CRWA] for over 20 years. At this point, I have made over 200 samples for this program!” Photo by Craig Austin

  • Service Medals

    Harry  W. has compiled a catalog of the service medals of the sculptor Julio Kilenyi (1885-1959). “I have tried to figure out which varieties are common and which are scarce by recording listings and sales mostly from eBay.” Based on nearly 15 years of eBay prices “only 51 bronze medals came up in the survey. This is 5.75% of the total listed… It would not be far off the mark to estimate that a total of 180,000 were struck in all metals by the time the Kilenyi medal was discontinued.” Photo provided by Harry W. 

  • Gender Identity

    Qian conducted a survey of friends and coworkers about gender, how gender is perceived by others, and their social competency in childhood and as adults: “There was general agreement…, between gender identity and others’ perception; there was also widely distributed, higher than average social competence in childhood.”

  • Dog Waste

    Claudia and Theresa sampled (cleaned up) dog poop in a local park. “We would pick up unclaimed poop during each visit and find out how many poops were being left behind…How many poops are left a day in our town?”

  • Bags of Cookies

    Doug and colleagues sampled bags of cookies from the vending machine at work: “Late last year we noticed a bag that was especially full. This was the jackpot of all cookie bags. The assumption going in is that there should be 12 cookies in a 3 oz bag…The average quantity of cookies we are happy to report so far is 12. In our initial research we have found bags that contain 11 or 13 cookies.” Photo by Kimberly Vardeman

  • Wooly Bear Caterpillars

    Rebecca from MD samples wooly bear caterpillar photos each year along with winter weather: “I am a biology professor at a community college & I love citizen/community science… I want to see if there is anything to support the old wive’s tale saying that the more black a wooly bear is the harsher the upcoming winter.” Photo by Angela Houck

  • Mountain Trees

    “In Busan, Korea, there is a mountain called Jangsan. I always wondered how many trees are on a mountain. I took three samples of 7.5m x 7.5m or 56.25m^2, Of the three samples I took, there were 5 trees, 5 trees, and 4 trees. Therefore there were 4.7 trees per 56.25m^2.

    16 180 807.2m^2 / 56.25m^2 = 287 658.794
    287 658.794 * 4.7 trees = 1 352 123.232 trees in all of Jangsan.” – Ryan K

  • Grains of Rice

    Dain used measured the number of grains of rice in a cup of rice (three times) to estimate the number of grains of rice in a giant container of rice at home. “The most difficult part of my sampling was counting the number of rice in the measuring cup. Even though it was in a small cup, it took me a lot of time to count them all. Also, I had to do it three times, which was very stressful.”

  • Household Recycling

    Ryan A. sampled his recycling “I want to take a sample of how much we recycle as a family per week. For me to calculate the amount of aluminum paper glass, and plastic I recycle per year I would need to find the amount of materials I collect per week then I will add all them up and multiply each category by 52.1429.” The results? 782 cans, 3,024 sheets of paper, 313 glass bottles, and 1043 plastic bottles throughout the year” Photo by Streetwise Cycle

  • Car Traffic

    Vincent sampled traffic: “In my research I was looking to see how many cars passed by my house from 4:00 to 5:00 and 6:00 to 7:00 on the weekdays and on the weekends. I found that during the week from 4:00 to 5:00 it is the busiest time for cars to pass by my house. On the contrary, during the weekends, there are very few cars that pass by my house. I have concluded that I should be weary of cars on my street when I am visiting a friend.”

  • Book Colors

    Bess sampled book colors: “3.8% of books are white, 7.6% of books are brown, 19% of books are blue, 13% of books are red, 5% of books are yellow, 13% of books are green, 11% of books are purple, 13% of books are black, 7.6% of books are grey, and finally, 3.8% of books are orange. This is based off of the top shelf of a bookshelf.” Photo by ParentingPatch

  • R2-D2 Sounds

    Lily sampled the number of noises R2-D2 makes in Star Wars films. “I found that R2-D2 makes approximately 601.33 noises in the decent part of the series. This could be used to answer questions unrelated to Star Wars, such as how often can a noise repeat before it is no longer endearing but annoying?” Photo by Marco Verch

  • Grains of Sand

    Wahid and Alex both used sampling to estimate the grains of sand on beaches near Busan Foreign School in South Korea by figuring out the number of grains in a small volume and estimating the volume of the beach. Wahid’s estimate wsa 102,355,000,000,000 grains of sand, and Alex’s estimate was 2,111,603,752,600,000. Photo by Wahid

  • Grains of Turf

    Liheng sampled the number of synthetic turf balls in the school futsal field by sampling all the turf balls from a fixed area and then extrapolating to the whole field, estimating that there are 3.66 x 10^10 turf balls in all!

Why Sample Something?

Young entomologist searching for insects at high altitude in the mountains. Photo by Gabriela Insuratelu
Young entomologist searching for insects at high altitude in the mountains. Photo by Gabriela Insuratelu

Some of the most interesting things in the natural universe could never be completely observed in a lifetime. Things like the number of fish in the sea, the average size of freckles, the diversity of microbes in the human gut, or even the total amount of gum on U.S. sidewalks are just impractical to try to measure or observe completely. But portions of these things can be measured and described, providing hints about the whole. For example, looking at the freckles on the face of some friends might provide a clue about typical freckle sizes. Using a telescope to count the number of stars in a section of our galaxy might allow you to estimate the total number of stars in the Milky Way! Sampling is an incredibly powerful tool for comprehending the unfathomable.

#TakeASample Science Club FAQs and Tips

I’m a Parent/Scientist/Artist/Student/Underwater Basket Weaver/etc…Can I participate?

Short answer: YES!

Everyone is invited, no matter where you are, what you do, or whether you have ever sampled anything before in your life. Need some inspiration? Check out these citizen science research projects curated by SciStarter that use sampling, and help them collect and analyze their samples.

What kinds of stuff can I sample?

Short answer: almost anything you are curious about!

How many shells are there on the beach? How often do blue cars drive past your house? How many aluminum cans/juice boxes/milk cartons get thrown away each year in the lunchroom? What microorganisms live in my pond? What’s the average weight of an American housecat? Are zebras more black or white? How much of New York City sidewalk is covered by gum? When is the best time of day to go to the grocery store to avoid lines?

Whether it’s the number of stars in the sky or the percentage of humans who can curl their tongue, if there’s a seemingly unmeasurable phenomenon out there, we challenge you to sample it!

Be safe and courteous in your sampling. Good rules of thumb: Don’t collect samples of any material that could harm your health, don’t damage property or living things, and don’t collect samples from live animals. Check out our full projects policy page if you have any questions.

How do I sample something?

Short answer: any way you want to!

The gist of sampling is to use one or more parts to describe a whole. For example, perhaps you want to know how much an orange typically weighs. It’s just not reasonable to weigh every orange on the planet in order to figure out what the typical weight of an orange is. But by weighing a sample of five or six oranges, you can quickly get an estimate for the amount that oranges weigh on average. Try to collect samples that are a good representation of the whole, without unfairly influencing your findings. In other words, don’t choose to sample only the smallest oranges if your goal is to estimate of the weight of oranges on average.

Sampling isn’t restricted to numerical measurement either: You can sample human emotion, leaf textures, or ice cream flavor…you can even sample the same thing repeatedly over time to see how it changes. Let curiosity be your guide!

I’m an educator. Can I do this with my students?

Short answer: Yes!

Scientists and mathematicians use sampling all the time in their research. You and your students have probably already performed some form of sampling, even if you didn’t realize it! We absolutely love it when students and educators participate in our Science Club challenges and have some tips for sharing student work while protecting your student’s privacy.

How can I submit a sampling story using audio?

Record your 30-second description of what you sampled, and what question your samples helped you answer, by clicking the button below. We might play your submission during our live show on May 13, 2016.

Meet the Writers

About Ariel Zych

Ariel Zych is Science Friday’s director of audience. She is a former teacher and scientist who spends her free time making food, watching arthropods, and being outside.

About Charles Bergquist

As Science Friday’s director and senior producer, Charles Bergquist channels the chaos of a live production studio into something sounding like a radio program. Favorite topics include planetary sciences, chemistry, materials, and shiny things with blinking lights.