Today's Sciencey LOL

Say it’s true!!

Funny science Emma Watson

Quantum physics is an established field of science that has revealed to us crucial insights into the behaviour of our physical environment and those that lie beyond the boundaries of our observable universe. As such, we can all look forward to the eventuality of banging Emma Watson. And if Hermoine Granger isn’t up your alley, or you don’t want her there, then you can always apply this probability to your favorite sexy celebrity.

That certainly is awesome.

Notes on Aeronautics and Becoming a Member of the Mile High Club

Aeronautics and Flight

She sits next to you on the plane, gripping the arm rests, her chest rising and falling with each laboured breath. Her eyes are closed, so you chance a sneaky glance at her face. She’s beautiful. A light sheen of sweat clings to her forehead and her hair cascades in blonde tresses down her neck. The airplane comes to a brief halt as the pilot waits for the runway to clear. It clears and the engines begin to roar. Her breathing gets faster and faster with every mile per hour the plane accelerates. The cabin is vibrating, the industrial scenery is whipping past, but all you notice is the pained expression on her face and the fact that her eyes are screwed shut…

A fear of flying is not uncommon. In fact, most first-timers or even frequent fliers will experience a degree of nervousness, if not downright crippling anxiety. Having said that, a fear of flying is much like a fear of sharks: you are much more likely to be killed by something else, so it doesn’t make any sense to stink up the cabin with your fear sweat.

Fear of flying

In theory, this fear is totally understandable, as you are hurtling through the thin upper troposphere in an aluminium tube held aloft by nothing more than a couple of clunky-looking wings fashioned from, surprise, metal. The cool thing is, if you understand the dynamics behind flight and therefore what is likely to send you spiralling Earth-bound in a plume of smoke and flame, you can provide your buxom neighbour with an insight that just might get you a first class ticket to the mile high club.

Everyone knows that we as creatures are most vulnerable when we are anxious or scared. With a brief lecture on the physics of flight and some careful massaging, I mean, assuaging of her fears, you could face the somewhat challenging task of cramming two bodies into an aircraft toilet. Alternatively, there are always those free blankets they hand out on some of those long haul flights: they’re great for camouflaging iniquitous activities. Not that I would know.

So, how is it possible? How can something that weighs, on its own, in excess of 400 tonnes lift you, hundreds of passengers, thousands of kilograms worth of luggage, countless bottles of duty-free liquor and the occasional spoilt first-class pet into the air? The dynamics behind it all are quite elementary my dear Watson.

Businessman Airport Terminal

Air is a Fluid, Physically Speaking

We like to think that air is nothingness, emptiness, vacuous and that it doesn’t really consist of anything. But physicists know better. Just grab a mouthful of air and, closing your oesophagus, try compressing it against your palate with your tongue. You can’t. Without an exit route, that air may as well we a block of concrete. That’s how NOT nothingness air is and moving air is exactly what allows an airplane to leave the runway to infinity and beyond.

Air is classed as a fluid. A very airy fluid, but it behaves just like a liquid in the way it moves and flows. So, whether you’re talking about the air, water or any other fluid for that matter, the physical laws that govern the way they behave are the same. As such, it can be said that fish fly through the air and airplanes swim through the atmosphere. Physically speaking.

Thrust, Drag, Lift and Weight

forces on an airplane 

Photo Credit: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

These concepts may sound like they belong in the gym (or the bedroom), but the delicate dance between thrust, drag, lift and weight is responsible for getting something that weighs hundreds of metric tonnes into the air. Let’s take a closer look at the four forces that play such an important role in flight and how they contribute to getting you to your domestic and international destinations…

Thrust and Drag

Funny Drag Queen

“Thrust” and “drag” may be your camp gay friend’s two most favouritest words, like ever, but they’re also fundamental in flight. Thrust is the aerodynamic force that propels something forward. An aeroplane gets its thrust from an engine or from a propeller. Since air in not nothingness and consists of gazillions of molecules, it exerts a counter force on any body hurtling through it. That force is called drag. If you want to feel drag, stick your hand out of a moving car window or ask your sister for some of her old dresses.

Drag is essentially air resistance and it is caused by all those air (or water) molecules crashing into the molecules that make up, for example, your hand when you stick it out the window of a moving car. The greater the surface area of the object moving through the fluid, the greater the drag or resistance. This is why, when your hand is turned edge on into the wind, you don’t feel much resistance. Then, when your hand is flat and palm open towards the rushing air, it feels as though you’re being high-fived by the invisible man. Having said all this, drag cannot exist if BOTH the object and the air are stationary. There has to be a difference in relative speed.

The concept of minimizing drag in the manufacture of things designed to go fast is called aerodynamics and it applies to a mind-boggling number of everyday technology. Fast cars and trains are manufactured in such a manner so as to promote the flowing of air over their bodies. This reduces drag and allows them to go faster. A square car would be about as efficient on the racetrack as a baboon with a Sudoku puzzle.

bullet train at a station

 The nose of the bullet train has been specially designed to channel airflow over its top so as to reduce drag and maximise speed. 

Airplanes are also made to be extremely aerodynamic. At speeds of 1,000 km/hr. anything sticking out would be subject to such intense drag forces that they’d likely be ripped right off the fuselage (the main body of the plane). This is why the landing gear is retracted after take off. This is also why you should not repeat the hand-out-the-window experiment on an airplane or else your entire arm would not accompany you to your final destination.

In order for a plane to take off, the thrust must be at least the same as or greater than the force of drag. You’ll notice that when your plane comes in for landing, the pilot lifts the flaps on the wings of the plane, effectively increasing the surface area of the wing facing the rushing air and therefore the drag. At this stage, drag is greater than thrust and the plane slows down. I can only imagine that landing a plane at cruising altitude wouldn’t be very much fun for anyone on board.

Weight and Lift

You should know what weight is. Your bathroom scale groans with it every morning. Weight is the force any object exerts on the ground and is a product of its mass and gravity, conveyed in the unit Newton according to the following equation:

Weight = Mass (kg) x Gravitational constant (on Earth it’s 9.8 m/s2)

A 60 kg woman on planet Earth is not only a bitch; she is a 588,6 Newton bitch. On the planet Mercury, she is a 217,8 Newton (dead) bitch. The greater your mass, the more you weigh. The larger the planet you stand on, the greater its gravitational pull on you and therefore, the more you will weigh. So you can imagine that a standard Boeing airliner full of passengers and luggage will weigh a considerable amount, even on Mercury. That’s okay because this is where lift makes its glorious stage entrance.

Lift is the opposite force of weight in effect and just like drag, it cannot exist if the object in question is not moving or if the air (or fluid) around it is still. As long as there is a difference in the relative speed of the object and the surrounding air, lift and drag can be achieved. This explains why kites, which don’t make use of any source of thrust to fly, can stay in the air as long as it’s windy, but will dive-bomb you like a kamikaze bat should the wind cease. It also explains why airplanes, which make use of jet engines or propellers for thrust, can fly on windless days.

So now you know the difference between thrust, drag, weight and lift. But, how does this explain how 400+ tonne airplane gets in and stays in the air?

The Mechanics of Flight

Funny Drag Queen

When a moving fluid, be it water or air, encounters an obstacle, it seeks a path around it. In the case of aeronautics, the wings (or airfoils as they are known in the industry) are the obstacles and the air is the fluid. The wings of the plane split the air into two pathways: one flows over the top of the wing and the other flows beneath it. The wings of airplanes are specifically shaped so as to promote the faster flow of air over the top of the wing than the underside. The slower flow of air underneath the wing causes a build-up of pressure beneath the wing, while the faster flow of air on top causes a localized decrease in air pressure.

This region of high pressure caused by the faster flowing air exerts a greater force on the underside of the wing than the air on the opposing side and this creates lift. In other words, the high pressure beneath the wing is physically pushing it upwards (see the rather useful diagram below). By adjusting the angle at which the wing faces the oncoming air, a pilot can control the difference in air pressure above and beneath the wing, thus controlling lift.

Lift forces on airfoil

How does a pilot do this?

While you are distracted by the pretty airhostesses and are desperately trying not to miss the free snack and drinks cart, tiny green gremlins abseil down the fuselage, dismantle the take-off wings and replace them with specially shaped cruise wings. This is why, without a cloud in sight and at 10,000m in the air, the plane goes through patches of turbulence. It’s those damn gremlins playing around with the airfoils.

In a more realistic scenario, the pilot controls the shape of the wing using flaps and slats. When cruising, these lie flush against the wings thus having no effect on flight speed or altitude. When opened, flaps and slats serve to decrease speed and lift, allowing the plane to descend and land safely. Or at least land. The safely part is up to the skill of the pilot.

Funny dog dressed as pilot 

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

So there you have it! Next time you’re seated on a plane next to a nervous blonde, or anxious brunette, distract him or her with your supreme knowledge of the physics of flight. Calm their nerves by explaining how elementary the concepts behind getting an immensely heavy hunk of metal into the air are and that once in the air the chances of things going wrong are highly unlikely. It’s times like this that you REALLY don’t want to be one in a million.

If you ever do manage to get seated next to someone attractive and takes things so far as a conversation on aeronautics, please do let me know all about it. I’ve been on too many flights to recall and the kind of people I have sat next to have included a 6 foot something Russian (who took a nap on my shoulder without buying me a drink first), a young gentleman with flatulence issues, a 50-something pianist with a severe case of verbal diarrhoea and a woman whose butt took up more than its fair share of seating.

Remember, if you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, put the “naughy” in aeronautics and take one for the team!

stewardess back sexy

TED Talks with Mythbusters' Adam Savage

Adam Savage is one half of the insane genius behind the hit TV show Mythbusters and in this illuminating short TED Talk, he explains to us how some of history’s most profound discoveries have come from really simple, yet insightful methods: Eratosthenes’ calculation of the Earth’s circumference (200 BC) and Fizeau’s measurement of the speed of light (1849).

It’s a lesson in how you don’t have to have a PHD behind your name to conceive mighty concepts.

Amazing Science Video Source: “How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries” – TED Talks. Uploaded by TED-Ed on YouTube channel https://youtu.be/F8UFGu2M2gM

View full lesson: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-simple-…

Today's Sciencey LOL

Funny science picture

According to Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object will continue moving at the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by another/external force. What this means is when you slam the brakes on your 18-wheeler truck to avoid a family of rednecks crossing the road, your massive cargo of solid rock will continue to travel forward at speed.

Guess you should have strapped that in, mate! Or not… your picture has officially gone viral and has provided millions of science students with a perfect way to never forget what Newton’s First Law of Motion is.

Drunk History (& Science): The Story of Benjamin Franklin

If you found your own history lessons at school mind-numbingly boring (who didn’t?) then this epic telling of the story of Benjamin Franklin will have you paying attention like never before. Who better to learn about the history of one of America’s greatest science pioneers (and political figureheads) from than a drunk celebrity? Illustrating a totally inebriated Eric Falconer’s account of Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment are funny actors Jack Black and Clark Duke.

Source: Derek Waters’ “Drunk History” on YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjZR1Rjj_p0

For more from the masterminds behind this genius and totally hilarious American comedy show, check out www.cc.com/shows/drunk-history.

Sensitive viewers, please note that when Eric says he’s going to puke he actually does, although it’s not too graphic. Just calmly put down your onion bagel around the 1:45 mark. You’re welcome.

Gravity and the Laws of Attraction, Somewhat Revised

Here’s a bit of great news: no matter how ugly you are, scientifically speaking, you’re still attractive!

That doesn’t mean that the guy or girl you’ve crushed on for one year, eight months, 37 days, 12 hours and 33 minutes (who’s counting?) is going to jump into bed with you… but it does mean that your feet will always remain planted firmly on the ground. And this is because, to planet Earth, you are attractive.

How romantic!

Sir Isaac Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation

Sir Isaac Newton

I’m not being clever when I say you’re attractive, even though you could eat an apple through a tennis racquet with those teeth. I am being quite literal! Gravity is the force that holds everything to the surface of the Earth and it’s what makes even the lightest feather float teasingly towards the ground. A force of attraction exists between every single being and object on this planet.

Earth’s force of attraction on you – gravity – is the reason we all don’t float out to Space. In fact, gravity is the whole reason the stars and the planets came together. 

“Gravity is the natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract each other with a force proportional to their masses.”

Sir Isaac Newton refined this definition by adding the fact that this force of attraction was inversely proportional to the distance between the two objects. This makes perfect sense: the further away you are from planet Earth, the lesser it’s gravitational pull on you, which is why astronauts float around in Space and your 600-pound mother-in-law has remained couch-bound since the 90’s.

Is the Force Strong with You?

Darth Vader sexy suit

Is there a way we can calculate how attractive you are? I’m so glad you asked, because the answer is yes! There is a formula we can use to determine the force of attraction between you and that hot guy in accounting. While this formula was developed for more austere means, science can also be fun and whimsical:

Gravitational force equation

F is the force of attraction between m1 and m2, which are two physical bodies (you and hot accounting guy). ‘d’ is the distance between these bodies and G is a gravitational constant (because nothing in physics is ever really simple). The value of G is approximately 0.00000000006674.

So, given this information, we can now calculate the force of attraction between you and your would-be beau. Let’s say that you weigh 70kg and he weighs 80kg. Right now he’s sitting at his desk a few cubicles away, chewing lightly on the back of his pencil like he always does when concentrating, knees folded under his chair, golden brown hair, soft skin…

Sexy business man

Focus!

If you had to draw a diagonal from where you’re sitting right now to his location, he’d probably be about 5 meters away from you and if you keep talking like that you’ll be legally required by a restraining order to make it 200 meters. Now, let’s plug these numbers into Newton’s equation:

F = G x [(70kg x 80 kg)]/(5m)²

F = G x 224 kg/m²

F = 0.00000000006674 x 224 kg/m²

F = 0.0000001914 Newtons

The gravitational pull of his sweet body on yours is 0.0000001914 Newtons.

This may seem like a paltry number compared to the bottomless pit of unrequited love you feel for him, but that’s precisely why we don’t go crashing into each other all the time. Not by accident anyway. We all exert a gravitational pull on each other, but this force is so small you just can’t feel it.

Jupiter’s Tormented Moon

Jupiter and the moon Io

Large objects on the other hand exert a stronger gravitational pull. Earth’s gravity is enough to keep us planted firmly on its surface. But Jupiter, which is a much larger planet – 318 times more massive to be precise – exerts such immense forces of attraction that its nearest moon, Io, is in a constant state of seismic catastrophe. Not only does this poor moon have to travel through Jupiter’s intense radiation field, but its very core is ripped up in continuous cycles of convection caused by Jupiter’s insane gravity. The moon is literally being turned inside out again and again and again.

Have You Thanked Your Gravity Today?

During the formation of the Universe – not the Old Testament version – when there was a veritable sh*tstorm of matter flying about, gravity is what caused the coalescence of the planets, stars and moons. Smaller pieces and fragments of matter would cling to larger pieces and fragments and the resultant balls of matter just got bigger and bigger and bigger until stars and planets were formed. This force of attraction, which is directly proportional to your mass or weight, is quite interesting and responsible for a number of things we take for granted.

Gravity is the reason extreme sports are dangerous. It’s the reason your keys hit the floor in the morning when, with arms loaded, you try to fiddle with that damn stubborn front door lock. The extreme stress it exerts on the core of planets is the reason the centre of, for example, the Earth is molten and it’s what initiates nuclear reactions in the hearts of stars. It’s the reason stars burn; stars being the forges of the heavier elements we are composed of!

Gravity is the reason we enjoy an annual trip around the sun. It’s the reason the oceans have tides. Even galaxies are held together by gravity. You may never have considered this force to be your best friend, especially if you were blessed with double D’s. But we all have a lot to be thankful for! Our very existence and the very order of things as we know it all comes down to gravity.

See what I did there? “Comes down”… Har har.

Spiral galaxy in deep space. Elements of image furnished by NASA

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Contrary to what we know about the accepted model of modern day beauty, the heavier you are, the more attractive you are. The next time your chubby kid comes home crying from the taunting of some cruel schoolyard bully, you tell him or her to say:

“According to the 1687 works of Sir Isaac Newton, the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, my greater mass actually makes me more attractive. Furthermore, my preliminary understanding of the laws of gravitation makes me your intellectual superior and while I can lose weight, you will always be an idiot.”

Boom!

Success baby meme

Epic Rap Battles: Albert Einstein Versus Stephen Hawkins

I’ve never been a huge fan of rap, but the boys who bring us “Epic Rap Battles of History” have revolutionized my opinion of this music genre!

In this awesome sciencey video, watch Albert Einstein tear shreds out of Steven Hawkins and Hawkins give Einstein a tongue-lashing of truly EPIC proportions. It’s absolutely hilarious and probably the most warped history/science lesson you’ll ever sit down to!

Artist: Epic Rap Battles of History
Featured Artists: Nice Peter, MC Mr. Napkins
Released: 2011
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zn7-fVtT16k