Mirrors always fog up after we come out of the shower. It is the same story. Shower. Fog. Shower. Fog. Shower. Fog.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can stop mirrors from fogging up with a bit of science.  The trick is that you have to stop water droplets from beading up on the surface of the glass. Scientists would say that you need to change the surface tension. One way to do that is to spread a bit of shaving cream on the glass and then remove it 30 seconds later. The next time you shower, there won’t be any fog where the shaving cream once was.

Here’s to better living with a bit of chemistry.

Our ancestors slept differently.

If you went back to the time before the Industrial Revolution, you would find them turn in around 9 or 10 pm and then sleep for about three and a half hours. Then, they would wake up on purpose and stay up for an hour or so. In that time, they would read, eat, clean, and sometimes visit their neighbors who were also up at this time. After about an hour, they would go back to sleep for another three and a half hours.  These two segments of sleep were called “first sleep” and “second sleep” and everyone slept this way.

Sleeping in two segments was the way everyone slept centuries ago, but by the early 20th century this way of sleeping was gone. There were two inventions that contributed to this: the lightbulb and the clock. With artificial light, we went to sleep later, which shortened the first sleep. With the clock, we had to get up early to go to the factory for work. So, the second sleep was shortened. After a while,  it did not make sense to sleep for two short segments, so we consolidated them to make the way we sleep today.

Today, there are some scientists and historians who believe that sleeping in two parts, that is segmented sleep, is the natural way of sleeping. Details about how our sleep changed and what we can do to get a good night sleep are all spelled out in a new book called The Alchemy of Us.

The Alchemy of Us Book jacket

The Alchemy of Us

In 1916, chemist Jan Czochralski mistakenly dipped his fountain pen into molten tin, which resulted in a thread of metal on the end.  Using the same force that moves soda up a straw, called capillary forces, Czochralski found an inexpensive way to make solid crystals starting from a liquid. He did not know this then, but his lab accident later created a cheap way to make silicon semiconductors, a method that was perfected by chemist Gordon Teal in the 1950s at Bell Labs.  And this process would enabled the integrated circuit, which is the heart of your computer. The start of the Electronic Age and Silicon Valley all came together because of a lab accident.

Most of the silicon chips that we use today are created by this method but very little is written about this scientist. In laboratories across the world, the method he created is called the CZ Method (after Czochralski), but most people don’t know his story.   Yet, it was his work that changed the world.

Want to know more?

A technical description of his work can be found in this Materials Research Society Bulletin article (which is downloadable.) More information about how the computer chip came to be can be found in  The Alchemy of Us.

 

 

The Alchemy of Us Book jacket

The Alchemy of Us

 

Deep in your watch is a small piece of quartz. What is it doing there? Well, it is keeping time.

Quartz has a little secret. It wiggles when zapped by electricity. This strange phenomenon is called piezoelectricity and it was found in the 1800s by Pierre and Jacques Curie. What they found is if you squeeze quartz, it will give off a bit of electricity. What was found later is that if you zap quartz, it will move.

A small gem of quartz is being zapped in your watch by a circuit connected to a battery, and those wiggles are used to count time.

In the early 20th century, there was a little known scientist named Warren Marrison who created the first quartz clock. He was actually using quartz as a way to help radio stations know what was the right frequency to send their programs. But he noticed that quartz wiggles the same number of times a second and thought this would be a neat way to mark of time. So one day he got a gem, which came from Brazil, and then sawed off a piece and then polished it. His gem wiggled 100,000 times a second and those wiggles were counted to make accurate clocks. Before quartz, clocks were less accurate, although many people thought they were useful, in fact one woman even sold time.

 

Many people don’t know who Warren Marrison is and he would have been lost in history. But he was recently profiled in a new book called The Alchemy of Us.  You can find out more about him and quirky quartz in that book.

 

Quartz may seem like an ordinary gem, but it keeps our world ticking.

 

 

 

In the late 19th century, there was an Englishwoman who was in the business of selling time. Ruth Belville would leave her home in Maidenhead and make her way over to London and then to Greenwich. There, she would walk up the steep hill to the Royal Observatory, where she would get the time. Then, she would make her way back down the hill and make her way over to the businesses in London that needed to know the time. Ruth Belville was called ‘the Greenwich Time Lady.’

Knowing the exact time was important for various businesses like newspapers, train stations, and navigators for ships. Ruth also had clients that were factories and wealthy people who loved having the precise time.

A time distribution business would not be a lucrative business today, but in Ruth’s day society was living more and more by the clock, which is why her business was so important. You can find out more about Ruth and other unusual characters in The Alchemy of Us.

 

The Alchemy of Us Book jacket

A new and exciting book from Ainissa Ramirez the maker of Science Underground!

Everyone loves fireworks.  Fireworks are quite old. The oldest form of fireworks was a firecracker from 7th century China, now we can make complex shapes like planets and clown faces.

So what gives the colors in fireworks?

There are a few elements at work. Barium, strontium, copper, and sodium make the colors green, red, blue, and yellow.  Aluminum and titanium make white; and carbon makes yellow.

So as you can see, fireworks are a explosion of color and chemistry.

On a cool summer night, you might see fireflies glow. What you may not know is that fireflies are key to discovering new drugs too.  Fireflies glow through a process called bioluminescence. In it, there are molecules that combine with energy and give off the green glow. Scientists are using those molecules and attaching them to cells to learn more about how these cells work. Following the glowing molecule is like watching a person in a darkly-lit room who has a glow stick. You know exactly where they are. The same goes for the part of the cell that has the glowing firefly molecule attached to it.

Now, fireflies are not the only species that glow.  There are worms that glow along with the anglerfish, which you’ve seen in major movies. There are also deep-sea shrimp that glow. Out of all those organisms, the deep-sea shrimp has the most disturbing use of bioluminescence.  When shrimps feel threatened by a predator, they vomits a glowing goo from their mouth to scare them off. That is a very effective means of bioluminescence!

All in all, bioluminescence is one of the tools that animals have.  Nature provides some excellent ways to see things in the dark, which scientists borrow for discoveries. As you can see, the light from fireflies is a small beacon during the summer, but also for the discovery of new medicines.

 

Star Trek has lots of cool technologies that have become a reality. There are invisibility cloaks and Tractor beams being made right now. And cellphones are like communicators and replicators are 3D printers. But, what we could all use is a transporter. This way we would not need to drive or go to an airport, we could just beam over to where we need to go and come back. Sounds wonderful!

Well, I spoke to physicist Lawrence Krauss, who is also the author of The Physics of Star Trek. He told me that a transporter takes us apart bit by bit. “In order to make you you, we need to put you back together atom by atom,” said Krauss. That sounds easy. But there is some bad news. There is a law in physics, in quantum mechanics, that tells us that the more we know where an electron is located, the less we know about how fast it is going. This is called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

To build a person atom by atom, we would need to know where each atom goes and how fast it is moving. But quantum mechanics says that we can’t know both of those things well. We can know one well, but not the other. So making a transporter would break the laws of physics.

Getting into a transporter would be a one-way trip. You might not like how you turn out.

So the short answer for “can we make a transporter?” is, “no.” We would be breaking the laws of physics to do so. And, we mustn’t do that.

No picnic would be perfect without ketchup. But ketchup has this habit of taking its sweet time when leaving the bottle.

There are several ways to get ketchup out of the bottle.

  • Stick a knife in it and scoop it out.
  • Hit the bottle at the neck (where the 57 is located).
  • Skip it and use mustard instead.

But there is a better, scientific way:

Shake the bottle.

Ketchup is made up of tomato pieces, water, vinegar and spices. And, it is the arrangement of the tomato pieces that give ketchup a structure and cause the flow of ketchup to slow down.

Scientists would call ketchup a thixotropic yield stress liquid. The yield stress part means that it takes force for the ketchup to move. This is why we have to hit the bottle to get it out. The thixotropic means that the ketchup has the ability to “remember.”

Once someone has used the ketchup bottle, the ketchup inside “remembers” it and will flow faster afterwards. This means that the second person that gets the ketchup bottle will have an easier time getting the ketchup out then the first person to use it.

What is going is on is that the tomato particles in the ketchup get rearranged after the first use and can easily flow passed each other the second time.

So how do you get ketchup to flow faster? If you are the first person with the ketchup bottle, then shake it. But, if you are the second person, don’t worry; you won’t have long to wait. The ketchup will flow real easily.

So, next time you are at a picnic, let someone deal with the ketchup bottle first. It is polite and scientifically a better way to reduce the wait.

 

Something is happening to honeybees! They are turning into zombie bees, or zombees.

There is a tiny fly that is injecting its eggs into the honeybee along with a parasite, and the parasite is taking over the honeybees’ behavior.  The bees fly around erratically and walk around awkwardly. You can say that it is the flight of the living dead.

Scientists are asking all of us to look out for bees that act strangely and report these sitings on their website: Zombeewatch.org. If you see something, say something. So far zombie bees have been found on the west coast in California and Washington state and on the east coast in Pennsylvania and Vermont.

Honeybees are important to us because they pollenate many of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables we enjoy. Without honeybees, there would be no honey too. Americans eat over 400 million pounds of honey every year.  If bees go away, we will need to eat foods that are wind pollenated like corn and wheat.

Honeybees make our lives a bit sweeter and here is one way all of us can help to keep them buzzing.