Science through the lens
Which lunch food has a shape that resembles a falling raindrop?
b. potato chip
c. hot dog
d. hamburger bun
e. all of the above
f. none of the above
If you chose (f), you’re like most people who think raindrops are shaped like tears.
If you chose (e), you’re probably just hungry.
In either case you’re wrong.
That leaves us with lunch. Let’s start from the top.
Choice (a), orange, is a sphere. Water droplets are spherical because water is cohesive, meaning it sticks to itself. The “skin” that holds the drop together is surface tension and the reason insects can walk on water.
If you chose (a), you made a logical choice based on the properties of water, but you are wrong. Notice that you were not asked to identify the shape of a raindrop sitting on a leaf. You were asked to identify the shape of a falling raindrop. (Always read questions carefully!)
Moving down the list to (b), we encounter the potato chip. Potato chips come in many shapes, ranging from relatively flat to completely crumpled. Have you ever seen a raindrop that looks even a little bit like a potato chip? If you chose (b) you are wrong, but have a good sense of humor.
Choice (c), hot dog, is an interesting option. Could a spherical drop of water morph into the cylindrical shape of a hot dog? After all, a hot dog is a cylinder with a hemisphere (half sphere) on each end. Could a water droplet in free fall separate itself into two hemispheres with a long drip of water in between? Although this is an imaginative idea, the laws of physics make it impossible.
Choice (d), hamburger bun, is the only remaining choice, and is the correct answer. Here’s why:
A raindrop is acted upon by three forces: gravity, buoyancy, and drag. Gravity is the force that pulls the drop toward the earth, while buoyancy of the surrounding air pushes it upward and keeps it from falling. When the force of gravity is greater than the force of buoyancy, the raindrop falls. The air around it creates drag, slowing the drop down to its maximum speed. In the process, the sphere is distorted into a shape that resembles a hamburger bun.
Got it? Now, you may go to lunch.
Bugs bite, drink blood, and rob food from gardens and fields. They can even kill plants, animals, and, occasionally, people. Is bugging a crime? In her latest book, Bug Shots, Alexandra Siy compiles "rap sheets" on several of the major categories of bugs and takes a very close look at some of the types of insects in an engaging text. For more information, click here.
Alex Siy is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Siy, Alexandra. "The Race for the Sky." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 7 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ A-Raindrop-Quiz.
The “Julia Child” of kids’ hands-on science
No one wants to mess with someone who is super strong! Even if you’re undersized, especially if you’re undersized, you’ve got to try the two tricks in this Minute .
Here’s the first challenge: Bet another person can’t remove your hand from the top of your head. The challenge-taker must try to remove your hand according to your rules. Otherwise, it’s cheating. Sit on the floor. Place your hand with your fingers spread apart firmly on the top of your head. Have your friend grasp your lower arm next to your elbow. Now let him/her pull upward, trying to lift your hand from the top of your head.
Chances are excellent that you’ll be lifted off the ground before your palm parts from its perch.
Why is this so? If you’ve studied simple machines you may have learned about a mechanical advantage. That’s how a simple machine such as a lever can multiply your strength or speed. In this case, you’re putting your friend at a mechanical disadvantage. Your arm is a lever. In order to move your hand from the top of your head, you need an upward force near your hand. If that force is delivered as far away from your hand as possible, it loses its power. It’s easy to remove your hand if you deliver an upward force near your wrist. But at your elbow? No way! Got it?
Here’s another trick with the secret sauce of physics. Bet you can keep ten people from shoving you into a wall. Place your hands against a wall with your fingers spread and your arms outstretched. Have ten people line up behind you, hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. At the count of three, have everyone push on the person in front of them as hard as they can. I mean, really lean in.
You, hero of the day, can hold them all off and not bend your elbows.
Why? Actually, each person absorbs the force of the person behind them so that you are not experiencing the cumulative force of ten people, only the force of the person directly behind you. So pick someone smaller than you to be that first person. If you’re not super strong, you can still be super smart.
If you don’t want to try this yourself, look at my videos of other people doing the challenges. Maybe you’ll change your mind.
If you like these bets, check out Vicki Cobb’s new release of We Dare You! You might want to join her We Dare You! National Video Project and make more videos yourself from her book. Learn more about it here.
Vicki Cobb is a member of iNK’s Authors on Call. You can invite her to your class through the magic of videoconferencing. Learn more about it here.
MLA 8 Citation
Cobb, Vicki. "How to Make Your Friends Think You're Super Strong." Nonfiction
Minute, iNK Think Tank, 23 Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/
David M. Schwartz
The amazing,engaging, math exponent
Pi Day takes place on March 14th this year, as it has every year since 1988 when this mathematical holiday was invented. Pi Day? Does that sound crazy? Sure it does. It’s irrational. Pi is the world’s most famous “irrational” number. Therefore, Pi Day is the world’s most irrational holiday!
Take a circle, any circle, and divide the circumference by the diameter. The quotient is the number called pi, represented by the Greek letter π. It is a little more than three. How much more? That is a question that people have been working on for centuries.
Pi is an incredibly useful number in mathematics, physics and engineering. It helps us understand things from the shape of an apple to the energy of stars. It helps us design things, from buildings to spaceships.
Pi is an irrational number. That means when you write it as a decimal, its digits do not just end (like 3.5) and they do not repeat in a pattern (like 0.3333…, where the 3s go on forever).
Here is a slice of pi: 3.141592653… The “dot-dot-dot” means the digits keep on going. How far? Is there a pattern?
With supercomputers, mathematicians have probed the mysteries of pi to over a trillion digits. The digits keep going. Infinitely. No pattern has ever been found. (Written in an ordinary font, a trillion digits of pi would go around the world 50 times.)
But the endless, patternless nature of pi enchants many minds and some people delight in memorizing the digits. A 69 year-old man named Akira Haraguchi recited 100,000 digits from memory in Tokyo in 2006. He shattered the previous record of Chao Lu from China, who had memorized merely 67,890 digits of pi after studying for four years.
Can you see a date in the first three digits: 3.14? It’s March 14th — Pi Day! This holiday is celebrated worldwide by students, teachers and math enthusiasts who enjoy pi-themed activities, clothing, jokes and food (namely pie).
This is an ordinary year as far as Pi Day is concerned, but in 2015, Pi Day was really special. After 3.14, the next two digits of pi are 15. So March 14, 2015, was not just any old Pi Day. It was the “Pi Day of the Century.” You’ll have to wait until March 14, 2115, for another Pi Day so sweet!
Happy Pi Day, everybody!
David Schwartz probes many mathematical mysteries in his books and school presentations given all over the world. He wrote this Nonfiction Minute while celebrating Pi Day at Tashkent International School in Uzbekistan. He is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Schwartz, David M. "Happy Pi Day." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 14 Mar.
In spring 1665 a college student named Isaac Newton studied natural philosophy, what we call “science.” Back then, a good student could learn everything to know about the natural world. But plague, the Black Death, came to England. Cambridge University closed. Isaac went home to Woolsthorpe.
For two years Isaac thought about his studies during four years at university. He’d always been thoughtful—not the best at games, making friends, or minding sheep. But everybody knew Isaac Newton liked to think. Folks told time by the sundial he’d drawn on a wall.
Home at Woolsthorpe, Isaac’s learning about science and math bubbled up in his head like yeast rising in a loaf of bread.
So... Newton unplugged. His mind roamed like that of an artist or composer. He was driven by the need to create—not paintings or symphonies, but questions.
“Why do things always fall down?”
“Why does the earth move around the sun?
“Why doesn’t the moon fall onto the earth?”
“Does everything ‘up there” work like things work ‘down here?’”
Isaac Newton answered his questions with three science rules, Newton’s Laws of Motion.
At Woolsthorpe, Newton grappled with the concept of moving objects. He worked out the math to find the area under curves. He called this math fluxions. Today we call this calculus, useful for launching rockets or tracking TV signals.
Once back at Cambridge, Newton said nothing until he read someone else’s paper on fluxions. Newton published a better paper. Soon he was Cambridge’s top math professor.
Isaac Newton wondered another twenty years. He played with prisms in a dark room and theorized that white light comprises the visible spectrum of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. He practiced alchemy and chemistry, looking for the legendary philosopher’s stone to turn base metals to gold. In 1687, Newton published our most important science book, the Principia.
In the Principia, Newton showed how laws of gravity and motion work the same at great distances—far off in space, or in your classroom. We accept these ideas, but in 1687 many still had medieval beliefs that sun, moon, planets, and stars all traveled in their own crystal spheres.
Yes, Newton wondered about A LOT:
Sir Isaac Newton was an English mathematician, astronomer, theologian, author and physicist who is widely recognized as one of the most influential scientists of all time and a key figure in the scientific revolution. Based on a portrait by Godfrey Kneller, 1702, via Wikimedia Commons
Sir Isaac Newton's own first edition copy of his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica with his handwritten corrections for the twentieth edition. Photograph Andrew Dunn via Wikimedia Commons
Trinity College, the part of the University of Cambridge where Newton worked and lived. Library of Congress
This statue of the young Isaac Newton stands at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Look carefully around his feet for a hint on what he is wondering about. If you can’t figure it out, then read about Newton and gravity.
Featuring 21 hands-on projects that explore the scientific concepts Isaac Newton developed, Kerrie Logan Hollihan's Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids paints a rich portrait of the brilliant and complex man and provides readers with a hands-on understanding of astronomy, physics, and mathematics. A time line, excerpts from Newton's own writings, online resources, and a reading list enhance this unique activity book.
MLA 8 Citation
Hollihan, Kerrie Logan. "Isaac Newton's Wonder Years." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 21 Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
When you think of the Olympics you think of the sports: Speed skating, Bobsled. Snowboarding. Track, Gymnastics. Swimming. Tennis. Just to name a few.
You may even think about some of the Olympians: Snowboarders Shaun White and Kelly Clark. Speed skater Apollo Ohno. Swimmers Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky. Or even gymnast Simone Biles and sprinter Usain Bolt.
But do you ever think about the science behind each sport? You should. Math and physics play a huge part in every part in the Olympics. Think about it. One of the most basic forces, friction, is a factor in everything an athlete does. What is friction? It’s the force that pushes back on you as you swim through the water or run through the air. Friction not only affects an athlete, but also the object they may be throwing, hitting, or kicking—like a baseball, a tennis ball, or a soccer ball.
Movement of any kind deals with physics of air flow, engineering design, and (unfortunately) sometimes collision. The verdict? Athletes need to know a LOT of science to do well in their sports.
Science is not just found in the activities themselves but also in the equipment they use and clothes they wear. Most of today’s superstar athletes rely on clothing and equipment enhanced with nanotechnology. What is nanotechnology? Nanotechnology is the science of the super small—microscopic even. One nanowire is 1,000 time thinner than a single strand of human hair. Now that is SMALL! Materials made with nanotechnology are stronger, more durable, and yet lighter and more flexible.
Nanotechnology produces swimsuits that allow the athlete to glide through the water faster, golf clubs that hit the ball farther, and tennis rackets that flex more easily to provide the hard smash across the net. This innovative new technology has already been used in the Olympics. In 2008, swimmers Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin wore swimsuits that were created with nanofibers. These nanofibers are woven tightly so that the swimmer’s bodies become more streamlined (like a shark!) allowing them to glide through the water faster. In the 2014 winter Olympics, the U.S. speed skaters wore specially created vented suits (like the swimsuits—to reduce drag), and in the 2018 winter Olympics, the USA Snowboarders will be wearing snow gear inspired by the space program.
Nanotechnology is a cutting-edge science that is changing the world of sports—and in particular the Olympics— as we know it. Will you make nanotechnology part of your game?
The LZR Racer is a line of completion swimsuits manufactured by Speedo using a high-technology swimwear fabric. In March 2008, athletes wearing the LZR Racer broke 13 swimming world records. Much like other suits used for high competition racing, LZR Racers allow for better oxygen flow to the muscles, and hold the body in a more hydrodynamic position, while repelling water and increasing flexibility. Kathy Barnstorff via Wikimedia Commons
Serena Williams uses a nanotech racket and Phil Mickelson uses nanotech technology in his game. Seems to be going well for both of them. (l) Wikimedia Commons (R) Photo by Siyi Chen via Wikimedia Commons
A graphic highlighting all of the ways nanotechnology enhances the effectiveness of sports equipment. Nanowerk via Wikimedia
You would have to increase a carbon nanotube x100,000 to make it the size of a strand of hair.
Want to know more? Jennifer Swanson's Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up was listed as one of the 2016 Best STEM Books by the National Science Teachers Association.
Colorfully illustrated by photos, this book introduces "the science of the very small" as applied to sports equipment and clothing.
MLA 8 Citation
Swanson, Jennifer. "The Science Behind the Olympics." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 7 Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/