Archive for November, 2017

Trigonometry in Babylonia

Did you ever think that life was much simpler centuries ago. That the studies were easy and life was rocking? It would interest the more serious students among you to know that you are not the first lot of students in human civilization struggling with mathematical concepts such as those inherent in trigonometry.

An ancient clay tablet which was discovered in the early 1900s in the area which is currently known as southern Iraq, proved to American archaeologist Edgar Banks that the ancient Babylonian civilization was fairly well educated. The tablet which is called Plimpton 322 is said to have been inscribed in the ancient Sumerian city of Larsa around 1800 BC.

It has 15 rows of inscription which detail the relationship between the three sides of a right angled triangle. The trigonometric table is a treasure trove for researchers as it proved that fairly complicated mathematics was studied and used by this ancient civilization that predates even the Greeks by nearly a 1000 years.

That ensures that the kids of this civilization also were made to study the Pythagoras theorem,  ironically about a thousand years before the Greek mathematician was born. Let’s get back to the hypotenuse and it’s opposite sides in the diagram in our book, now shall we?

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Haunted Dunes Mystery Solved

When Marco Polo, the Italian merchant traveler crossed the sand dunes in Whistling Dune Bay, the humming sounds from the dunes made him believe that they were haunted by ghosts and evil spirits. Today the same sound producing dunes are an active part of China’s tourism attractions.

The sand dunes create a booming sound as the grains of sand rub against each other. The sound is further amplified because of the dunes unique internal structure. The study conducted by Dr Nathalie Vriend, Cambridge University, revealed that the sounds created by mere sand grains rubbing against each other can be heard for miles.

Now there is a beautiful tourist resort located close to the sand dunes in Whistling Dune Bay. The hotel guests have the opportunity to create their own unearthly sounds by sliding down the dune or simply squeezing a handful of this special sand to create a unique croaking sound.

It would make an interesting science project to see how the mass of the sand used affected the level of sound created. Using a sledge to go down the mountain will definitely make a much louder, almost avalanche type of noise than merely jogging over the dunes would create.

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Why Are There More Right Handed People?

Most animals have a tendency to favor one side of their bodies. 7 out of 10 chimpanzees are right handed. While almost all kangaroos are left handed. In cats the females tend to be right handed, while the males are generally left handed. So how come such a vast majority of the human population turned out to be right handed?

The answer may lie in the fact that humans are essentially social animals that need to live and work in groups to survive. This means that they need to be able to use the tools that have been developed by other people in the group. Somewhere between when the first tools were developed 1.5 million years ago, to the present age, it was an adaptation which took over our species.

Does that mean being left handed is bad? Not at all. In combat situations being left handed is unexpected, and thus it can be a major advantage. Perhaps that is why even in sports you will find that the left handed players tend to have an advantage over the right handed players and tend to do better. Think of all the famous left handed tennis players like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Rafael Nadal. A science project on left handed sportsmen would be interesting.

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How “Green” are Electric Cars?

One of the solutions to green transportation is the electric car. The engine of this car does not burn any fossil fuels and so will not emit any smoke or pollution. This can have a huge impact on improving the quality of air in a city. However just how green is an electric car?

The vehicle still needs electric power to charge it’s battery and run. What is the source of this electric battery? In many cases it is a coal fired power station. Considering that the electric car is charged from the fossil fuel generated electricity, the green element becomes null and void.

The greenhouses gases emitted during the actual production of the electricity used to run the electric car would probably rival the greenhouse gases generated by the regular petrol fueled cars. Yes, the electric car is a good scientific innovation, but it’s just as green as the power used to run it.

Perhaps the focus of new science projects should be a way to individually harness green sources of energy to be able to create enough electricity to run an electrical car. That would truly be a revolution in the world of developing green energy to reduce pollution.

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Traffic Rules for a School of Fish

Human beings need traffic lights and a bunch of rules to ensure that everyone on the road drives safely. Still we manage to have accidents and bang into each other. So how is it then that a school of fish seem to swim effortlessly together, without banging into each other and through some pretty athletic twists and turns in the water?

Studies show that each fish tends to have a preferred position in the school. Some of them are natural leaders and tend to move to the front of the school, while others prefer to follow. The fish use the pressure sensitive pores along their bodies known as the lateral line.

These sensors allow the fish to feel the pressure of the waves and the distance from it’s companions. Should a fish be left behind more than two fish lengths it will speed up to regain it’s position in the school. If it is closer than two fish lengths to the fish in front of it, it will slow down.

The position of the fish makes a lot of difference to it’s movement and role in the school. It would make an interesting science project to see just how different species of fish move in their schools.

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How Long Can DNA Last

DNA or  Deoxyribonucleic acid is a molecule containing all the information required for an organism to be born, sustained and reproduced. We are literally a product of our parents DNA. It consists of base pairs which hold the data required to regenerate a similar organism. This molecule is also used in forensics to identify individuals. The DNA is a long lasting molecule that is tough to destroy.

Just how long can DNA last? A study conducted on the leg bones of the extinct moa birds in New Zealand found the half life of DNA to be 521 years. Half life refers to the time needed for a substance to lose a specific property by half. In this case it was established that in about a 1000 years a strand of DNA will lose 75% of the genetic information coded into it’s base pairs.

Bacterial RNA or Ribonucleic acid is much tougher than human DNA. RNA extracted from ice crystals more than 419 million years old are found to be almost complete. Of course the RNA consists of only short fragments of 55 base pairs to start with. This science project explains how bacteria continues to survive and grow even after being dormant in extremely hostile environment.

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