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Posts Tagged ‘natural history

Physics for Curious Teenagers

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Physics is often an intimidating subject because it encompasses so much – it is the foundation for how everything else works. Our understanding is advanced and growing, but not yet complete. There are still holes, and this is where the excitement lies – exploring the unmapped territories, standing on the shoulders of giants and seeing farther than any have seen before. The easy parts have been mapped, and the hard parts beckon. Teens with the academic capacity for this subject can benefit from strong parental encouragement and support. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs are proliferating, and physics provides a reliable foundation for these areas. Check your teen’s school to learn about local courses.

Particle Physics
The most fundamental questions have been asked for centuries. Where are we from? How did we get here? Physics is part of our pursuit for answers. By examining the most basic building blocks that everything is made of, we discern the properties of both matter and energy, and how matter is essentially a form of energy. Chemistry, organic chemistry and biochemistry, the basis for life, all originate in particle physics. It’s like the “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” shows, but this is the detective work of reality – physics underlies a lot of criminal investigative work.

Fermilab, the U.S. Department of Energy’s powerhouse of particle physics, offers a solid list of books on physics for regular people, and the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh offers a selection of engaging physics books for teens — such as the “Manga Guide to Physics” — that are accessible without being dumbed down.

Fundamental particles carry positive and negative electrical charges, and these charges regulate the interaction of matter. As the Encyclopedia Britannica notes, at the particle level electrical charge is so powerful that the absence of only one electron out of every billion molecules in two 70-kilogram (154-pound) persons standing two meters (two yards) apart would repel them with a 30,000-ton force. If you want to understand how that works, “Physics for Idiots” has good explanations, even if you’re not an idiot. Teens looking for the story behind the science can also enjoy “Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched on the Modern World,” an overview of the history and human drama behind electromagnetism’s discovery.

Physics of Motion
Energy and matter together becomes motion. Isaac Newton formulated the Three Laws of Motion on an English sheep farm in the mid-17th century and revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos. He worked out how the motion of the moon affects the oceans on Earth and creates tides. The same laws that govern the fall of an apple from a tree form the basis of our understanding of orbital mechanics – how the planets orbit the sun through the principles of inertia and mass. The online Physics Classroom presents these laws in a clear, accessible way for teens.

Physics of Relativity
Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity picked up where Newton left off by showing that space itself is warped by gravity, and that even light is affected by it. This effect is so powerful it enables us to see galaxies hidden behind clusters of other galaxies because the galaxies in front create a lensing effect, warping the light around them. Relativity also gave us light’s speed limit – 186,000 miles per second. By this measure, the sun is 8 minutes distant, Saturn is 15 minutes away, and the Voyager 1 space probe at the edge of the solar system is over 17 hours out. Cornell University, the workplace of renowned astronomer Carl Sagan, has a good overview of Einstein’s theory, and yes, there’s a “Manga Guide to Relativity” too.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 3:24 am

High School Earth Science Projects on Rocks

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

The common element to all science projects is the scientific method, which is composed of five steps: the research question, the hypothesis, the procedure, your results, and a conclusion. Whether you are examining rocks, studying animals or the behavior of people, these five steps provide the framework for your interrogation of reality and how you report your results. When conducting experiments, always focus on safety.

The sun, Earth and seven other planets circling the sun all formed from the same cloud of gas and dust more than 4.5 billion years ago. Some of Earth’s building blocks still exist as a belt of rocks we call asteroids, circling the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. These rocks vary in density, mass, composition and cohesion. Occasionally their orbits are perturbed so they end up intersecting with Earth and fall in as meteorites. Students can investigate the various crushing strengths of different meteor types and their ability to survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Variables include size, entry speed, meteor composition and atmospheric pressure.

Rock Hardness
Students can collect an assortment of five rocks (color, texture, weight, composition, origin) near them. Students can develop a hypothesis as to which rocks are hardest, and order them thus, from softest to hardest. Test rocks using the Mohs scale to determine whether the hypothesis is correct.

Rock Strength
Using the same rock types that were tested for hardness, test for unconfined compressive strength. Students should test them at different angles — some rocks are strong in one direction and weaker in others. This test can be done with a bench vise on weaker rocks, but safety goggles are essential. The rocks should be ordered by the hypothesis of comparative strengths and compared with the final results.

Rock Magnetism
Some rocks, particularly iron oxides, contain magnetized minerals. Students can investigate a collection of local rocks and assess the intensity of the magnetism. They can vary depending on mineral content, exposure to magnetic fields, exposure to heat and location. Additional properties to investigate could include magnetic alignment and the type of remanent magnetization — chemical, depositional or isothermal.

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 10:39 pm