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.
Research has shown that under optimal conditions (such as an industrial compost center), this plastic will degrade in 45-100 days. However, when poly(lactic acid) plastics are disposed in the trash and sent to the city landfill, the plastic won't degrade any faster than any other plastic, which is estimated to be at least hundreds of years. This is because heat, sunlight and oxygen are required for the decomposition of the poly(lactic acid) and it is difficult for sunlight and oxygen to penetrate the tons of soil and thick plastic liners of a landfill. It is also difficult to achieve the required composting conditions in the compost pile in ones backyard. Because of these difficulties in achieving optimum conditions, some stores selling products packaged in containers made of poly(lactic acid) have a program where customers can bring their used containers back to the store for the appropriate composting, rather than throw them in a landfill with the rest of the trash.
There are other issues with turning corn into plastics besides disposal. Some people question whether we should be using food products (corn) to produce materials or if it is more responsible to use it to feed people. Also, it is unclear how much energy it takes to grow, harvest and process the corn to produce the polymer and then eventually recycle it. Some scientists have argued that it is actually more energy efficient to just use petroleum resources to produce plastics as, overall, this process might produce less greenhouse gasses such as CO2 and consume less energy. One could also question why we need so many disposable containers that are only used for an hour or two and then disposed of in the landfill to sit for hundreds of years.
- How are crystals formed?
- When a water surface reflects something (when looking from the top), does it undergo total internal reflection?
- What are hydrothermal vents?
- Where does static electricity come from? How does it get in my cat's fur? Why is it worse in winter? How do dryer sheets get static out of clothes?
- Why does fruit ripen?
- If the electrons are attracted to the protons, why don't they come crashing into the nucleus?
- After mixing 1oz of cornstarch and some water together, why does it get hard when pressure is applied? And then when the pressure is released, the mixture becomes drippy?
- How do CDs Work?
- Can you explain the darkening of glass by irradiation? I am working with a high school chemistry teacher who would like to be able to use some old glass samples in discussions of atomic structure. Some of the glass has been turned purple through exposure to Cobalt-60.
- What are mirages?