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.
The question also touches on an important concept in modern science, which, when understood, can help you answer many other deep questions.
This is the concept of "collective behavior," the idea that large collections of things (such as molecules in air, cars in heavy traffic, people in a long line at a coffee shop) often behave in simple and beautiful ways which are quite different than the behavior of the individuals.
Sound, including the sonic boom, is an example of such collective behavior, where an incredibly complex collection of trillions of trillions of tiny molecules all moving in their own different directions with their own different speeds and bouncing from one another create the familiar and relatively simple behaviors that we all hear in our daily lives.
So, to answer the question, very much like a single car cannot make a traffic jam and a single customer at a coffee shop does not break into a spontaneous conversation with himself, a single molecule, even when moving faster than the speed of sound, cannot create a sonic boom.
The class's thinking was along the right lines, but it's not that the booms are too small to hear, it's that you need many, many molecules to make a sonic boom, not just one.
- How do lasers in machines work?
- What is anti-matter? Does it exist naturally? Does it look and feel like regular matter? How do scientists make anti-matter?
- Who determined the speed of light and how did they do it?
- I know that a TV screen is made up of lots of blue, green and red dots, so why does the light coming out of it look blue from a distance?
- Now that we are all recycling, what are some of the products that are made from recycled materials that we should be buying to complete the cycle?
- Why does oil float above water?
- What about the atomic structure of a substance determines its color and/or luster?
- How do scientists know there are such things as atoms?
- How can you tell if a ruby is real or fake? Is there a test I can do?
- Is being a scientist fun? How is it fun?