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.
Did you know that some special materials have four phases of matter? This fourth phase is called the "liquid crystalline" phase (LC). The LC phase has properties that make it both liquid-like and solid-like. A mood ring is an example of an object that takes advantage of the special properties of liquid crystals.
Here is a brief explanation of how mood rings work. The ring is a glass shell filled with molecules that are in the LC phase. When light shines on the ring, certain colors of light will be reflected depending on how the molecules are arranged. The arrangement of molecules depends on your body temperature. When your body temperature changes, the arrangement of molecules also changes, causing a different color of light to be reflected. To the extent that your body temperature indicates your "mood," you can then "see" your mood by the color of light that is reflected.
The liquid crystalline phase was first observed in 1888 by Austrian chemist Friedrich Reinitzer. Surprisingly, nearly 80 years passed before the first commercial products were realized. Today you will find LCs in many electronic display applications (LCD) like laptop computers, digital watches, calculators, and cell phones. These LC phases operate as shutters and can be switched on (light) and off (dark) by the action of an electric current.
- How do speakers produce more than one sound at a time (example: guitar and vocal)?
- How are dryer sheets manufactured?
- How come we have two eyes but see only one of everything?
- Why do scuba divers wear rubber?
- What is in batteries that causes electricity?
- How would gravity function if the earth were a torus?
- 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 about the atomic structure of a substance determines its color and/or luster?
- Does temperature effect the speed of light?
- 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?