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.
Perhaps the most common edible fluorescent molecule is chlorophyll - the molecule that makes spinach and grass green. Chlorophyll absorbs blue and red light very efficiently (which explains the deep green color of spinach), and emits very red, almost invisible, light.
Does this mean that chlorophyll containing plants, such as spinach, are also fluorescent? The answer is both yes and no. During the day, plants absorb light and use the light energy to manufacture sugar. This process is known as photosynthesis. Since the plant uses the absorbed light very quickly, almost none of the absorbed energy is available for fluorescence. Under these conditions, plants are not fluorescent. At night, the photosynthetic machinery is "turned off." If the plant is exposed to a short flash of blue light at night, a burst of fluorescence will be observed. (Unfortunately, this effect is too small to be seen by eye.)
Since there are edible fluorescent materials, are there also edible lasers? This burning scientific question was tackled by Arthur Schawlow, one of the inventors of the laser, and his students in 1970. To make their laser, they mixed sodium fluorescein, the dye used by ophthalmologists in some eye exams, with Knox gelatin. Under bright ultraviolet light (black light), "intense green beams emerged" from the gelatin. As a grad student, I was told that Prof. Schawlow then ate the new laser; however, I think this part of the story is apocryphal!
- Does the moon have lithospheric plates? Do other planets have distinct layers such as the inner core, outer core, and mantle, like the earth does?
- Why are the boiling points of metals with metallic bonds so varied?
- Can particle accelerators accurately simulate conditions that occured during the Big Bang?
- How does a fire hydrant work?
- If radioactive elements are getting converted into half in each of their successive half lives, then are radioactive elements going to disappear from universe after certain amount of time?
- How do you make a magnet?
- How do you make a laser?
- 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 are some musical instruments still made out of wood instead of using new types of materials like plastic?
- It has been said that man cannot produce a perfect sphere. How can that be said if we have nothing perfectly spherical as a reference to begin with?