Your Questions Answered!
I get asked a lot of questions. “What does Don smell like? Did you mean to set that on fire? Why are the townsfolk outside with pitchforks and torches AGAIN?” For legal and moral reasons I can’t always answer those questions, but sometimes the fates are kind and I am happy to share my wisdom with Explosions Inc.’s loyal fans. This week I’ll open up the mailbag and serve up some hot steamy knowledge in our first installment of:
FLAMING HUNKS OF SCIENCE!
Question: Why does scientific discovery take so long? -M. Curie, New Madrid, MO
Answer: Picture the history of scientific achievement as a river. From afar it’s placid surface lulls us into a false sense of serenity. But, unbeknownst to the casual observer, a closer look reveals the raging currents of intellectual reasoning, the submerged rocks of accidental discovery, the flotsam and jetsam of scientific ego, the little skittery-legged thingies of curiosity. Oh man, those water striders are the coolest. And a killer example of surface tension. Their low weight and the way it’s distributed over a large area allows them to walk over the surface of the water. You know, I’ve always been curious to put one of those things on the surface of a bowl of water and then add a few drops of dish detergent and see what happens. The soap decreases the surface tension and I wonder if it would go low enough that the water strider would fall through the surface of the water. But I don’t know if water striders can swim, or if they’d be harmed by the detergent, and really, it seems a little cruel to trap a living creature just to lab-drown it.
In summary, yes, the ethics of scientific experimentation are a constant concern to today’s researchers.
Question: Why do scientists believe in the Big Bang Theory? -Willy Herschel, Walla Walla, WA
Answer: Because CBS keeps renewing the actors' contracts. Haha! No, I kid. That show is terrible.
The Big Bang Theory is a cosmological theory that attempts to explain the early actions of the universe and why the universe looks roughly homogeneous today. Immediately after forming as a singularity, the universe went through a period of rapid expansion. To this day galaxies are receding from each other and us at speeds proportional to their distance. It might help if you get yourself a balloon. One of the party balloons with a saying or design that becomes visible as the balloon inflates. Now blow into the balloon and observe as the designs on the outside of the latex recede from each other at the same rate. As the balloon inflates and the tension increases, the latex becomes stretched and, if you rub it against your shirt you’ll notice a fuzzy, prickly feeling. This is caused by electrons being stripped from your the atoms of your shirt and collecting on the balloon, giving it a negative charge. Now you can stick that balloon to your hair, the wall, or any other positively or neutrally charged object, like a cat. The balloon and the object of your choice will be attracted to each other until the electrons are somewhat evenly distributed again.
And that is how static electricity works.
Question: Why is faster than light travel impossible? -Al E. Princeton, NJ
Answer: Oooh, good one. The speed of light is known as a “constant”, meaning it stays the same no matter what. Which is kind of a misnomer as light can travel up to the speed of light (186,000 miles/second or roughly 300,000,000 meters/second) through open space but can and will go slower, depending on the medium it travels through. The reason is all about that mass. A photon (particle of light) has theoretically no mass and can travel up to the speed limit for light. Any other particle has mass and, thanks to a little ditty penned by noted scientist and fashion maven, Albert Einstein, we know that as a particle’s speed increases, so does its mass. In a celebrated thought experiment, Einstein envisioned a stationary box floating in deep space. Inside the box a particle is emitted, travelling left to right. If this particle hits a geiger counter, a small vial of poison gas is broken open and the cat dies. However, until the box is opened and the waveform collapsed, one cannot be sure if the cat is alive or dead. It is suggested that the original experiment involved an explosive device rather than a radioactive isotope.
And that is how the phrase “more than one way to skin a cat” came into being.
That’s it for this week’s serving of FLAMING HUNKS OF SCIENCE! If you have a question you’d like answered, let us know in the comments.