Getting my daily dose of science

From the time I began college up until my relocation to suburbia about a year ago, science was my bread and butter: I was a physics major, then a high school physics teacher, then a science textbook editor. Now that I work as a math tutor and humor website moderator, I have to get all of my science cravings fulfilled on my own time.

Since science really is all around us, coming up with Ideas for Doing Science isn’t difficult at all. Sometimes I look at the neighborhood pool across the street and want to mix in a large quantity of cornstarch. A lesson in non-Newtonian fluids and an absolute blast to run across, but such large-scale Random Acts of Science are often bad ideas (unless you’re a Mythbuster, which is pretty much my dream job). So I have to get my geek on in more manageable ways.

It doesn’t get much more manageable than a slinky. Slinkys move the way they do because of the interaction between two forces: gravity and the restoring (“springy”) force of the spring. When you push a slinky down a flight of stairs, gravity causes one end to fall to the next step. This stretches the spring out. The restoring force pulls the other end down to restore the spring to its natural, unstretched state. However, while the spring is restoring to its natural state, gravity is still acting. Gravity pulls the slinky down to the next step and the cycle repeats.

What if we add a third force to this system: the buoyant (“floaty”) force? In other words, how does a Slinky move underwater?

Good thing I have that pool across the street. I’ll report my findings in a future post.

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