Tag Archives: Science

This is how you clean your art room with a little help from Einstein, part 72

4 Mar This masterpiece, which I will call Energy Turning Into Matter Relativity shows that I have a robust collection of functional markers. by Alexandra Hanson-Harding.
This masterpiece, which I will call Energy Turning Into Matter Relativity shows that I have a robust collection of functional markers. by Alexandra Hanson-Harding.

This masterpiece, which I will call Energy Turning Into Matter Relativity shows that I have a robust collection of functional markers. by Alexandra Hanson-Harding.

One thing that’s really really urgent when cleaning your art room is figuring out if every single one of your eight kajillion felt tipped markers is fully functional. There is no better way of testing them than by making a completely necessary two page spread of doodles in one of your art notebooks, I have found. The result can be found above. I still don’t know exactly how to organize the eight kajillion pens systematically. But I did find at least 12 that didn’t work, so I can THROW THEM AWAY. And I bundled some of them up with rubber bands before I got bored. I also watched a YouTube video about Albert Einstein.  There was the usual working in Swiss patent office/crappy husbandage/annus miraculus 1905 4 papers/ mentorage by Max Planck/proving theory of general relativity/famous/sciency sciency this and that, but I also learned  how he liked to greet ladies in a magical bathrobe. During their visit, the bathrobe would mysteriously open up, revealing Little Einstein. Who can say that gaining that piece of knowledge is not time well spent?


Writing Prompt: What incredibly efficient thing did you do today?

Science for the Scared 4. Riding the Wave: Electromagnetism

2 Jan


I actually don’t know why this diagram has naked people, butterflies and needle points in it, but hey, it’s science! Thank you, Wikimedia Commons.

No discussion of atoms would be complete without getting back to the idea of WHY our tiny friends, the negatively-charged electrons, would choose to jump from the safe inner shells of their universe, close to the nucleus (made of positively charged protons and plain old chargeless neutrons) to shells that are further out. Electrons are deeply engaged in an electromagnetic relationship with the nucleus—why change a beautiful thing? 


Oh wait, did I just say “electromagnetic”? As if I had already explained it? Why, how RUDE of me. Do sit down and have some sweet tea and I’ll tell you just a bit about the electromagnetic field. As I mentioned before, it’s one of the four major forces in the universe. That is, along with the strong force (binding protons to neutrons), the weak force (lets radioactive material decay), and gravity. No, don’t worry about that piece of pecan pie you just dropped. That’s just the force of gravity. It just wants to pull on every piece of matter and drag it to the center of the earth. Of course, it’s not going to go through the bottom of the porch. That smooshed piece of pie is exerting force on the porch floor, but the porch floor is exerting force right back, pushing it up. Anyway, I’ll just clean that up and get you some more. There, a nice new piece of pie, filled with pecans and the constant drama of atoms doing their magical little electromagnetic dance.


Oh yes, electromagnetism. Ever had an X-ray? Listened to a song on the radio? Eaten a Lean Cuisine fresh from the microwave oven? Seen the color red? These things are all available because of the field of electromagnetism that underlies out universe. Imagine that all throughout the universe, electricity is moving in millions of endless straight vertical lines. And magnetism is moving endlessly in straight horizontal lines. Electricity and magnetism are constantly pushing against each other in a neverending battle for dominance. Neither party ever wins. But their endless pushing (are they siblings, perchance?) means that the universe is filled with waves of energy from the conflict. Some of these waves are very fast and very close together, like gamma waves and X-rays. Others are much slower. Among the slowest are radio waves. A little higher on the electromagnetic spectrum are colors. From ultraviolet (the highest) to infrared (the lowest), every color you see in your box of 64 Crayolas is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Okay, maybe you won’t see ultraviolet or infrared in your box of crayolas because they are colors we don’t normally see. You probably have to get your badge in Science to see them.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t affect you. Remember that time you went to the beach and you THOUGHT you slathered yourself in sunscreen but you forgot to put any on your feet and the next day they felt like burning fire because of the sunburn you got? That is the result, in part, of harmful ultraviolet (UV) waves on your delicate skin. Most UV rays don’t penetrate Earth’s protective atmosphere, but some do. So remember, wear your sunscreen. And do let me get you more sweet tea. It’s filled with electromagnetic energy, too. And in the meantime, I’ll just give you one word I’ll be using to answer the question I posed in the first paragraph for my next post. That word is “photons.”

And in the meantime, here’s an easy, fun Web site about the electromagnetic spectrum: http://www.darvill.clara.net/emag/index.htm


Writing prompts: 1. Did you ever get a major sunburn? When? 2. What are some of your favorite memories of listening to the radio?

Science for the Scared 2: What is an Atom?

31 Dec












Okay. You’ve all seen the picture of an atom. It looks like the sun with a planet running around it in a neat, circular orbit. That’s not really how it works. But thank you Ernest Rutherford for at least coming up with that idea in 1911. Atoms are actually more complicated than that. A real scientist could give you more details but right now you’ve got me, so here goes.


An atom is made of three parts. In the center is the nucleus. It is made of protons and neutrons. That is, except for hydrogen, which is the most widespread atom in the universe, the original bad boy who helped to started the whole matter thing when the earth began 13.8 billion years ago. Hydrogen has only a proton for a nucleus.


A proton has a positive charge. Hence the name “Pro.” Guess what a neutron has? You guessed it. NO charge. So what holds this odd couple together? What is the secret of their successful relationship? I mean, you split the neutron from the proton and you have yourself a nuclear reaction. The secret is called the Strong Force. (There are four main forces—The strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force, and gravity—more about that later). All you need to know for now is that the strong force is incredibly powerful. 


Electrons bounce around the nucleus. These tiny, tiny little particles (each proton has about 1,800 times the mass of an electron) have a negative charge. Because of their complex magnetic relationship they do not orbit around the nucleus in a neat circle. They are more like crazy clouds of flies. Where they are at any moment is not random. There are certain bands circling where electrons are more likely to hang out. These bands are called shells. When an atom is in a state of low energy (as it is in solids), electrons hang out close to the protons. When they are excited, the electrons are more likely to move outward from the center.


The more protons an atom has, the higher its atomic number is. You’ve seen the periodic table, right? The number of each element corresponds to an atom. Hydrogen (H), is 1, because it has 1 proton. Carbon (C ), has 6 protons. Silver (AG) has 47.  An atom is the smallest unit of an element.

Writing prompt: Because there’s always a writing prompt! What attracts and repels YOU?