Monday, September 15, 2008

Simple applied science

In our house, we've been dealing with a lot of interesting applied science lately. The most persistent and annoying source of it is the huge population of ants who seem to find a way into something sweet in our cupboard or on our counter pretty much every day. If I understood how thousands of tiny ants with pinpoint-sized brains could work together to act like a thinking being, I'd write a post about it. But I really have no idea.

Instead, I'll tell the story of how we unstuck two drinking glasses. For some reason, we have several different sizes of drinking glasses in our house. The second biggest size glass can fit inside the biggest size glass. However, once together, they tend to get stuck.

Mama Joules was trying to get them apart using water and soap, without success. I got them apart very quickly, with a different trick. I put ice and water in the smaller, inside glass. Most things contract (get smaller) when you make them colder, apparently including glass--the smaller glass came free from the larger one within just a few seconds.

Variations on this trick are pretty common--my grandmother used to use it to open jar lids that were stuck, by getting the lid hot. It's a kind of fun example of science that gets applied in the kitchen all the time.

Awhile back, I left some full soda cans on the porch, in the sun. When I came outside the next day, a couple of them had burst open. What do you think happened?

One interesting note: water expands when it gets hot, and also when it gets cold, but only so far. As the temperature drops, just before it freezes, water begins to expand again, and ice takes up more volume than the same amount of liquid water. Soda cans left out in the freezing cold can also burst!

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