SiS Quickie: Unexpected results do not equal failure

A good experiment starts with a hypothesis. It’s essentially a guess, a prediction- the data from your experiment will either confirm or refute your hypothesis.

If your results refute your hypothesis, it means your hypothesis was wrong. But have you failed?

There used to be a scientific concept called the ether. It was supposed to be a substance that was all around us that we couldn’t see or feel, but was necessary for the transmission of light. Michelson and Morley conducted an experimented that was intended to detect the ether.

They didn’t detect it. They didn’t detect it because it wasn’t there. This could’ve been viewed as a failure, but finding out that light didn’t need an ether to travel through is one of the greatest discoveries in all of science. The initial hypothesis was wrong, but the actual findings opened up entirely new branches of physics.

Life is an experiment. If you’re not where you thought you were going to be five years ago- and I’m certainly not- it doesn’t mean you failed. Your original hypothesis, your original plan- maybe that didn’t work out. But what you find instead could be much more incredible than you ever imagined.

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Scientific Pet Peeve #1: Mass vs. Weight

Everyone has their pet peeves; unsurprisingly, at least a few of mine are science related.

Most people wouldn’t give a second thought to hearing someone say that something “weighs” twenty kilograms. I physically shudder whenever I hear or read such phrasing- and when I was a textbook editor, said shuddering was usually channeled straight into my red pen. Some of the first things you learn or teach in an intro physics class are the facts that mass is measured in kilograms, weight is measured in Newtons (or pounds), and mass and weight are not the same thing.

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Weighing your options…

…because you pay by the ounce.

One of my best friends from high school, who currently lives in NYC, is in town right now. So a bunch of us met up for pho (which is reportedly awful in New York), then went to a make-your-own-mix fro-yo shop for dessert.

I can’t get fro-yo without thinking two things:

1) All frozen yogurt shops are absolutely adorable, right down to the spoons.

2) I wonder how many different combinations I can make.

On the drive to the shop, I decided that I’d actually calculate out the number of combinations while we enjoyed our dessert. But upon our arrival, when I was reminded of exactly how many flavors and toppings were available, I realized the numbers would be staggering. Continue reading

NPH, scotch, and seventh-grade science…

…also, Science in Suburbia is not responsible if you start burning things after reading this post.

I don’t always watch television, but when I do, it’s usually a game show, a cooking show, Mythbusters, or anything with Neil Patrick Harris in it. So imagine my elation when I learned that Neil Patrick Harris and his better half, David Burtka, were judges on the latest Iron Chef. I’ve been known to enjoy a cocktail or two in my time (though that consumption has dropped precipitously as I’ve reached my later twenties), so I was only further excited to see that the secret ingredient was scotch. Continue reading

SiS Quickie: Force vs. Power

“Nintendo Force” is the in-progress spiritual successor to the long-running, now-defunct Nintendo Power. I see what they did there; the problem is that it’s not scientifically accurate.

A force (measured in newtons) is a push or a pull: it measures how hard and in which direction.

Power (measured in watts, or joules/sec) is the rate at which energy is used: it measures how hard, how far, and how fast.

How hard and in which direction vs. how hard, how far, and how fast…you know, I’m going to let you come up with your own analogy here.