Stump the Scientist Scenes from AAAS Science After Hours

February 16, 2001

Science Is Fun!
by Judith Brand

"Science Is Fun!" was a popular symposium organized by chemistry professor Bassam Shakhashiri from the University of Wisconsin--Madison. Among the participants were members of the Exploratorium's Teacher Institute, who entertained and enlightened the AAAS audience with Exploratorium-style activities. These were two of the favorites:

Click to watch a RealPlayer video clip of how to open a wine bottle without a corkscrew.

What to Do When You Don't Have a Corkscrew
Exploratorium teacher Modesto Tomas showed that a bottle of wine can be opened without benefit of a corkscrew: Just bang it against a wall! Padding
the wall with his jacket, Modesto hit the wall with the bottom of the bottle until the cork began to emerge. "What's going on?" he asked the audience.

"Newton's first law: inertia," someone said. The wine doesn't want to move, so as the bottle moves, the wine pushes against the cork. "Newton's third law: for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction." As the
bottle pushes on the wall, the wall pushes back on the bottle. And finally, as the emerging cork creates space in the neck of the bottle, the wine
rushes in, forced to flow rapidly as it moves from the wide part of the
bottle to the narrower neck.

A few more bangs, and Modesto lifted the cork out of the bottle! An open bottle of wine shouldn't be wasted, so Modesto poured a glass of wine for a volunteer to taste. He dumped the rest of the wine into a blender and turned on the machine, adding air to the liquid. The volunteer
tasted the wine again and pronounced that it was smoother.

Modesto explained that cheap wines often taste harsh because they contain a lot of tannins. Oxidize the tannins, and the taste will improve.

Can You Find Your Blind Spot?
The Exploratorium's Linda Shore passed out Popsicle sticks and brightly colored stickers so people could experiment with their blind spot. (Each eye has a blind spot because no light can be detected on the part of the retina where the optic nerve enters.)

With stickers affixed to the ends of their Popsicle sticks, people closed one eye, and held the sticks at arm's length so that the stickers covered up part of Linda's head. Still looking at Linda, they moved their sticks to the side until the bright stickers vanished from their sight. By wiggling their sticks around, they could discover the height of their blind spot.

Sounds Like Fun!
Exploratorium senior staff scientist Paul Doherty played music by twirling and blowing through corrugated plastic tubes. The tubes came in many lengths, as short as a soda straw and as long as a bus. The audience laughed as Paul illustrated the story of how he found the science behind the music. Science is indeed fun.





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