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Science experiments

This section covers about Science experiments.

Science experiments

Wheeling around

D. Indumathi, The Institute of Mathematical Sciences
You must have often seen little children holding a colorful wheel on a stick and running down the road. The wheel rotates in the wind.

wheeling around

If you stare at a wheel spinning in front of you, you will observe that it is rotating uniformly. That is, every point on the surface of the wheel seems to flash past your eyes at the same speed. This is clearly seen in a slowly rotating fan: the blades all move at the same speed about the centre of the fan. If you are exactly below (or in front of) the fan, the blades also uniformly rotate past your eyes. This happen because the centre of the fan is not rotating; it is fixed with respect to you. Hence the constant speed of rotation about the centre of the fan is also seen by you as a uniform smooth rotation.

What happens when the centre of the rotating object is also moving, say, away from you? This is the case with a cycle or car wheel: the wheel is rotating about a central point, but this central point is itself moving, since the vehicle as a whole is moving. So there is two types of motion that the wheel is taking part in: rotating about its centre and linear motion of the wheel as a whole.

A simple experiment will show you how a typical point on the surface of the wheel moves.

Take a large plate and mark off four points North, East, West and South, as shown in the picture. Highlight one of the points (say, North) by making it bigger or circling it. Also mark off the intermediate points North East, South East, South West and North West.
wheeling around1
Now we have a round plate with 8 equidistant points, one (North) distinguished. Hold the plate up against a wall with North on top. South is touching the ground (see the picture on the next page). With a pencil, lightly mark the position of North on the wall.
wheeling around2
Rotate the plate forwards so that the next marked point (South West or South East) touches the ground. Again mark the position of North on the wall.
Keep rotating the plate and marking the position of North. Continue until you have at least a dozen points marked on the wall. Take away the plate and see what kind of pattern you have made on the wall. Was it something you expected? What do the dots tell you about the manner in which a point on the plate (which is our model for a wheel) moves?

Speed of the point

Abhijit Deshpande, IIT madras, Chennai
You would have obtained a pattern which looks like the picture below. As the plate or “wheel” rotates, it moves forwards. You can see that when a point on the wheel (North, in our experiment) is on top (positions 0 & 8), its moves forwards a greater distance (0 to 1, 8-9) than when it is near the ground (4-5).
speed of the point

What does this mean in terms of the speed of the point? In our experiment, we rotated the “wheel” (plate) by equal angles at a time (45 degrees, actually). If the vehicle on which the wheel is was moving at a constant speed, every such turn happens in equal intervals of time. We know that speed – or rather, let us use the technical term, velocity- is nothing but distance moved in a given time, divided by that time. Since the points we have marked out are not equidistant, the (forward) velocity of a point on a wheel changes as it moves from top to bottom. Or, different points on a rotating wheel have different velocities! But remember that all points on the wheel are rotating with the same (angular) velocity around the centre of the wheel. They appear to move with different speeds for a person standing and watching the wheel. This happens because the wheel is not just rotating about its centre; it is moving on the road too. Contrast this with a fan.
Since the centre of the fan is fixed with respect to us, the blades of the fan appear to move uniformly. Let us get back to our plate. Can we approximately tell what is the variation in the speed of a point? Measure how much the plate has moved forward in eight turns (the point North going from top to bottom back to the top). Suppose it is 8 cm. The average velocity of the point is 8cm in eight units of time, or 1 cm per unit time. Notice that the point North moves from position 7 to 9 in two units of time. That is about 4cm, about twice as fast as the average velocity. Whereas from position 3 to position 5, North hardly moves at all. If you can handle a little algebra, you can work out that a point on top of the wheel has twice the average velocity, whereas a point at the bottom has zero velocity. Points in between having continuously changing velocities between these two extremes. So next time you see a bus going past, think about the fact that the points at the bottom of the wheel are taking an instantaneous rest while the bus as a whole is moving. It’s true!

Why do our ears go “pop”?

Cut open a balloon to get a fairly flat piece of rubber. Cover a glass jar or bottle with the balloon piece and tie it tightly with a rubber band or piece of string. (If the mouth of the jar is small enough, you can just stretch a whole balloon tightly over the mouth). Grip the balloon firmly at the centre with your fingers, raise it, and let it go. You will hear a pop sound. A pop-up sound is usually heard when the air pressure is equalized suddenly across two sides of a surface. In this case, when you pull the balloon, the air that was inside the bottle gets redistributed uniformly over a large volume, leading to a partial vacuum. Hence there is greater air pressure outside than inside. When you let go, the sudden release of the balloon compresses the air inside, and the resulting equalization of pressure causes a pop sound to be heard. A drum makes sound in the same way.

A membrane is usually tied tightly over a frame, and beaten with a stick or the hands. When the drum is beaten, the air inside is suddenly compressed, leading to a pop sound. The same principle is what makes our ears go pop every once in a while. As you are reading this article, you can make your ears pop by simply swallowing. (Try it!)
The periodic popping is very necessary to protect the sensitive ear-drum inside our ears (see the next page for a picture). It is in fact the middle ear that plays a role in this popping activity. The ear is not an independent organ; it is connected to both the nose and throat because of the Eustachian tube which connects the middle ear to the nose. The Eustachian tube is lined with a membrane (similar to the one in the nose) that continually absorbs air.

Hence the amount of air in the middle ear decreases, leading to an air pocket inside the ear just as in our experiment. When we swallow food (or even just saliva), a small amount of air enters the Eustachian tube from the nose and enters the middle ear, equalizing the inside and outside pressure. This results in a popping sound. Hence the air that is absorbed in the middle ear is continually replenished during swallowing If for some reason (for example, when you have a cold) your nose is blocked, the air cannot enter the Eustachian tube from the nose and hence there is a difference of pressure between inside of the ear and the outside. This pressure difference causes the ear to feel blocked. The relative vacuum inside makes the eardrum get sucked inwards.

Hence it is not able to freely vibrate, impairing normal hearing. If the nose block is severe, the ear drum gets painfully stretched and is the cause of severe discomfort. This is a temporary discomfort that disappears with the cold. But occasionally, fluid may start to ooze out from the membranes in an attempt to fill the middle ear cavity and equalize the air pressure. This may also be due to various nose or ear infections. Discomfort due to such pressure differences on the ear can be felt during air travel, especially during landing, when the aircraft is moving from the low atmospheric pressure high up to the ground. Air pressure inside the aircraft cabin is controlled, but not completely.

The eardrums stretch outwards during take off and inwards during landing (can you say why?). Popping your by swallowing eases the discomfort during landing, when the increasing air pressure causes the vacuum to form faster than normal. Can you think of other situations when your ears hurt due to sudden changes in pressure?

Question to think about: When you blow your nose, it is recommended that you blow one nostril at a time (that is, close only one nostril at a time). Why? Parts of the ear The ear is divided into three parts, the outer, middle and inner. The outer ear includes the pinna, as well as the ear canal which you can see disappearing into the side of your head. The canal ends in the eardrum, which vibrates when any sound waves are channeled into the ear by the outer ear down the ear canal.
The vibrations of the eardrum are transferred to three small bones in the middle ear, which in turn pass them on to the nerves in the inner ear. These vibrations are picked up by the nerves and transmitted as nerve impulses to the brain. The brain decides whether you are listening to the wailing of the next door neighbour’s baby or Beethoven’s 9th symphony.
The inner ear also affects your sense of balance (when you twirl around, you feel dizzy).
Source: The American Academy of Otolaryngology


Abhijit Deshpande, IIT-Madras, Chennai

Do you remember the last time last time you tried to get tomato ketchup from the bottle? Did it happen that no matter how hard you shook the bottle, the ketchup refused to come out! In such a case, what might have worked is tilting the bottle up and trying to pour it again. Or inserting the back end of a spoon and making the ketchup flow.
Did you ever wonder why the ketchup behaved like that? Well this has been a scientific curiosity and research topic for quite some time. The branch of science that deals with the flow of various materials is called rheology. Believe it or not, there are lots of scientists studying the rheology of different kinds of materials and they are called rheologists. A rheologist also classifies fluids based on their behavior under given conditions. One such classification is to divide the fluids into Newtonian and non-Newtonian.
Many fluids which we encounter in our daily life such as water and cooking oil are Newtonian fluids. Behavior of these fluids is relatively easier to understand, and we have been studying and using them for a long time. However, there are many other materials such as toothpaste, sauce, curd, molten polymers (JM, Sept. 1999), idli dough and grease which come under the class of non-Newtonian fluids. Blood is also an example of non-Newtonian fluids.

How different are these non-Newtonian fluids from Newtonian fluids? Let us do a small experiment. If you take a cooking oil (Newtonian fluid) in a jar and stir it using a rod, you can see that a small dip is formed near the rod. But, if you do the same experiment with some non-Newtonian fluids, you will see that the fluid climbs up the rod We have all seen water (Newtonian Fluid) coming out of a tap. When it comes out, the diameter of the water jet is almost the same size as the inside diameter of the tap and a non-Newtonian (on the right) fluids being rotated by a rod.
But, if you make a non-Newtonian fluid flow through a tap, it will come bulging out of the tap! In fact, you can observe this bulging out when toothpaste comes of the tube. Why do non-Newtonian fluids behave so strangely? Questions like this are answered in rheology. Companies which make medical products, plastics and rubber products, cosmetic items, toothpaste, food items like chocolate and cheese employ rheologiests. They try to understand the rheology of these materials and improve the performance of the products so that they behave just the way we want them to! Next time, if the ketchup does not come out properly or the toothpaste does not stay on the brush, blame it on the rhelogists! A Newtonian (on the left) and a non-Newtonian (on the right) fluids coming out of a tube.


Abhijit Deshpande, IIT-Madras, Chennai

What is the most important component of rice? Starch, of course. We eat rice so that we get a good supply of starch. This starch is taken up in our body and digested. This digestion process gives us energy to do all the different things we do. Is it possible for us to buy starch by itself? Yes, if you go to a grocery store, you can buy cornstarch. Whenever soup is made in your home, cornstarch may be used. It is used while cooking soup because it makes the soup very thick.

Just an aside – “do you know? Why do we not eat the starch directly and get energy?”
Let us get back to our discussion about starch. Starch can be extracted from different sources such as corn, rice, potato, tapioca etc. we are going to have fun playing with starch. It does not matter where the starch was extracted from. These are the things you need for the fun experiments: Starch, water, vessels, glass or tumbler, spoons, thermocol I am sure all of these are available in the kitchen at your home. Here are few things we can do:
Mix starch and water in almost equal amount. You will have to apply lot of force to mix them together. Eventually, you will be able to make a paste out of it. Thick but milky white paste!! Take the paste in a spoon and let it fall again in the vessel by tilting the spoon. What do you observe? For comparison, take some water in another spoon and see how it falls when you bend the spoon. Now, you can rub thermocol on your head for some time. Bring this thermocol close, when you are letting the paste drop from the spoon. What happens? Does the paste fall straight down as before? Or does it go flying towards the thermocol? Repeat the same procedure with water. Does water fall straight down or does it also go towards thermocol? Which goes towards the thermocol more? Starch-water paste or water? Take half a spoon of this paste and mix 00 ml water into it. Out of that take 100 ml in a vessel. Put another 100ml in a glass/tumler. Set the starch mixture in the glass aside; lets call this sample A and we will come back to it later.

Take the vessel with 100 ml of starch water mixture. Heat it while stirring continuously. After the temperature gets high enough, you will notice that mixture turns from milky white to translucent. It also becomes thicker. This is the property that is so useful for making soups. Do you know – why does it become thicker? Why does it loose the bright milky colour and become slightly colourless thick paste? Take half a spoon of the heated paste and cool it to room temperature. Put it in a vessel with 100 ml of water and mix. Can you mix the paste easily with the water? Does it become a uniform mixture (but very watery)? Anyway, keep this aside for the moment. Lets call this Sample B and we will come back to this watered-down mixture later.

Solution and Dispersion:
Do you notice what has happened to the 100 ml of dilute mixture kept in a glass – sample A? Do you see that it has become thicker at bottom and clearer at the top? In other words are starch particles separating and settling at the bottom? Try to observe the changes taking place in Sample B with time? Do you see that it remains uniform mixture for long time. It maybe that you will have to wait for days/years to see some change in this. Why?
What is the difference between sample A and Sample B? In Sample A, starch particles remain particles and separate slowly and settle at the bottom. What happened to these particles in sample B? Does it have to do with heating? Remember the “big” difference between Sample A and sample B is that Sample B is heated. Can you say how are the starch molecules in the starch particle? What happens to these molecules when heated?
Well, before you get carried away with all these questions, write all your observations properly. Once you write down the observations, we can start the process of finding answers for all the questions. Send all your observations and answers to us. We will be happy to see the results and conclusions of your experiments. In the next issue of JM, we will discuss the answers to all the problems raised by these experiments.
Chemical formula of starch: Here is how the chemical formula of starch looks like. Pretty complicated, isn’t it? By the way, what are the arrows at the two ends denote? They denote that you can keep repeating the formula 100 times!! Maybe even 1000 times!! That means that starch molecules is a very long molecule. It is like a rope running into kilometers.


Source: Portal Content team

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