Monday, August 27, 2012

Why Use The Metric System!

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post "IS AMERICA'S MEDIOCRE (AT BEST) SCIENCE SCORES DUE TO NOT USING THE METRIC SYSTEM?suggesting the mediocre science scores for U.S. high school students is related to the lack of familiarity to the metric system.  That is one reason for using the Metric System.  But why do scientists like the Metric System (technically scientists use the  International System - SI which is a simplified Metric System) in the first place?

The U.S. Metric Association (USMA) summarizes these to six points or advantages:
  1. No conversions - only one unit for each quantity.
  2. Coherence - derived units are based on simple algebraic quotients or products of base units.  There are no numerical definitions to memorize.
  3. No fractions - uses decimals only.
  4. Prefixes - prefixes are short and to the base 10.
  5. Few units - The SI system only 30 individually named units and students only need to remember a few units depending on which subject they are taking.
  6. Easy to write and say - quantities are much easier to express in the SI system.
Although my colleagues and I always teach and reteach the metric system year in and year out for science classes, this year I am focusing on why we prefer the Metric system.  It should be a "no brainer" but I always have a student who will argue that the U.S. customary system works fine and the rest of the world should follow us.  I tell the student I hope not!

U.S. Metric Association (USMA), Inc. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Good Observation and Question from my son!  The answer to the question is biochemistry...

On my way to dropping my son off at the Peabody summer camp during the cool morning, we pass by a large pile of wood chips on the side of Route 111 in Shelton near Jones Farm (Figure 1).

Figure 1
My son not only noticed but asked why is the pile smoking?  This is a great question because it involves lots of science disciplines.

The pile is not really smoking as it is water vapor produced as the wood chips are being composted somewhat.  Composting is a bit more involved.  Aerobic bacteria in the pile feed on the wood chips, as they do they produce carbon dioxide, water vapor, and heat.  Most life forms on Earth do this.  In fact, most of the instruments looking for extraterrestrial life are looking for these compounds rather than direct evidence.

Since the wood chip piles are slightly warmer than the rest of the ground, the cool morning air causes warm moist air from the compost to condense and produce the mist.   The air became saturated with water and reached its dew point as a result of lowering the temperature.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


While on vacation last week to Montreal, I learned that Mont Royal sits on a volcanic complex or more precise is a remnant of one.   In particular, 125 mya southern Quebec, Canada was above a volcanic hotspot (region where magma is close to the surface a.k.a. plume).  Mont Royal (or Mount Royal) as well as the rest of the Monteregian Hills are the remains since they are more resistant to erosion.  The hotspot known as the New England Hotspot, is similar to the more famous hotspots currently over Hawaii and Yellowstone.

Apparently, the hotspot had its beginnings 200 mya in an area northwest of Hudson Bay, as the plate moved the plume was recorded in 150 million year old rocks in Ontario.  Continued movement of the North American Plate produced Mont Royal 125 mya.  It was recorded again in rocks from the White Mountains of New Hampshire and from 100 to 80 mya the hotspot created the New England Seamount chain of the coast of North America.  The hot spot became active again 75 mya as it produced the Corner Rise Seamounts.  The Mid-Atlantic ridge has overridden the hotspot and formed the Great Meteor Seamount chain 20 to 10 mya.

Figure 1 (from NOAA)

Figure 1 shows the plate movement over hotspot from formation of Mont Royal ~125 mya to the Great Meteor Seamont chain ~10 mya.

For the rock hounds (weird people who worry about such things and collect them), the Mont Royal country rock is a grey limestone (CaCO3) which was intruded  by magma.  Where the magma was in contact with the limestone marble was produced.  Inside the chamber the magma crystallized to form a dark gabbro of which I have a sample [ROCK HOUND].  The gabbro consists of the following minerals; pyroxene ([Fe,Mg]Si2O6), olivine ([Fe,Mg]SiO4), and plagioclase (CaAl2Si2O8).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Featured Scientist

The following is my own version of a "HALL OF FAME" for scientists.  Monthly selections from my wiki homepage will be archived on my google sites Featured Scientist Webpage.  I began last month (July 2012) with Democritus. What is shown is a picture and short teaser bio with a link(s) to more extensive bios.  Enjoy... 

Who can forget the Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) who proposed that the center of the universe is near the Sun (heliocentric) and not Earth (geocentric) as was believed at the time.  He was born in the town of Torun (Thorn) in Royal Prussia what is know Poland to a well-to-do family.  He studied mathematics, astronomy, medicine, canon law, and economics and spoke several languages.

Interestingly enough, he was not the first person to come up with the Heliocentric model, that belongs to Aristarchus of Samos from the 3rd century B.C., unfortunately for Aristarchus, his model was rejected in favor of the geocentric models proposed byAristotle and Ptolemy.  Copernicus was not satisfied with the geocentric model and made numerous observations using some devices developed by various Islamic astronomers in the 12th and 13th century to publish his own handwritten heliocentric model around 1514.