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.
At a given temperature, freezing and melting occur at about the same rate, so the snowflake doesn't change much over time. This is called equilibrium.
When the highway department drops a salt crystal onto the snowflake, it dissolves in the liquid part. Because salt has a different size and shape than water, it doesn't freeze into the ice. Instead, the salt gets in the way of some of the liquid water molecules, preventing them from being frozen into ice.
However, salt doesn't keep molecules from leaving the ice and going into the liquid. In other words, salt speeds up the rate of melting without affecting the rate of freezing. Only if the temperature drops can freezing compete again. If the temperature drops a lot, freezing completely takes over and there is no liquid water to dissolve the salt and the whole process doesn't work. That's why when it's really cold in Ithaca they just put down sand to improve tire traction.
But why salt? Shouldn't the above reasoning apply for any solid that dissolves in water? The answer is yes! Sugar could be used too, but salt is cheaper. Properties that depend on the number of dissolved molecules, not their identity, are called colligative properties.
- How is it that when powder is applied to a surface fingerprints appear?
- Why is element 43 made by man and none of the elements around it are?
- Why don't you see two things if you have two eyes?
- Why do stars twinkle?
- How many dimensions are there?
- Our textbook tells us the speed of the molecules that make up the air we breathe, but the speed it gives us is faster than the speed of sound. Why don't we hear sonic booms as when an airplane breaks the sound barrier? Are the particles just too small for us to hear the booms?
- What are electromagnets and what metals are included?
- If you put a balloon of oxygen into liquid nitrogen what would happen to the balloon?
- Is popping popcorn a physical or a chemical change?
- How are elements named?