Archives of Ask A Scientist!
About "Ask A Scientist!"
On September 17th, 1998 the Ithaca Journal ran its first "Ask A Scientist!" article in which Professor Neil Ashcroft , who was then the director of CCMR, answered the question "What is Jupiter made of?" Since then, we have received over 1,000 questions from students and adults from all over the world. Select questions are answered weekly and published in the Ithaca Journal and on our web site. "Ask A Scientist!" reaches more than 21,000 Central New York residents through the Ithaca Journal and countless others around the world throught the "Ask a Scientist!" web site.
Across disciplines and across the state, from Nobel Prize winning scientist David Lee to notable science education advocate Bill Nye, researchers and scientists have been called on to respond to these questions. For more than seven years, kids - and a few adults - have been submitting their queries to find out the answer to life's everyday questions.
"Fake" ruby results from mis-identification of another red mineral, commonly garnet or tourmaline, or of colored silica glass. These mis-identifications are relatively easy to detect making use of physical properties. For instance, ruby is much harder than tourmaline, garnet, or especially glass. As well, fake rubies are often less dense than the real thing. It's easy to do these physical tests.
Now comes the hard part: telling natural from synthetic ruby As is the case for diamond, a lot of ruby crystals have been grown (synthesized) in the lab. Growing rubies is by no means easy, but unlike mis-identified ruby, synthetic ruby is no less "real" than natural ruby. It can be extraordinarily difficult to tell the two apart. In the Verneuil synthesis process (used for over a century), rubies are grown by dripping fused alumina onto a plate, where it crystallizes. Characteristically curved growth features--observed with a microscope-- remain in the synthetic single crystal and are tell-tale signs of a synthetic origin. Heat treatment changes the internal features of the crystal making detection of this type of synthetic ruby more difficult. More recently, the appearance and physical properties of ruby crystals grown in a flux can be made to be essentially identical to those of natural ruby. Chemical analysis to detect trace amounts of impurities characteristic of the flux--like lead-- may be the only way to tell natural from synthetic.
Interested is seeing some natural ruby and corundum? Come to the Snee Hall mineral museum on the Cornell campus!
- What molecular property causes certain matter to be transparent?
- How does sonar work?
- Why is it that when I look at one side of the spoon I see my reflection right side up, and when I turn the spoon over I see my reflection upside down?
- Do mountains ever fall?
- How does two-photon microscopy work? How do the resonance patterns create a photon with half the wavelength of the parent photons?
- How do scientists know there are such things as atoms?
- How do you make a rock into a metal or a crystal?
- Why do we get a shock from electricity?
- Why are some lights called Halogen Lights? Do they contain elements from the Halogen group?
- From what metals are electromagnets made?