Sunday, 5 June 2011

James: Friday afternoon Science

One of the things I really enjoy about my research group, here at Bristol, is what we in the lab refer to as 'Friday afternoon Science'. These are wacky ideas, still science based, that may or may not be useful for the work we are doing but which are outside the box ideas and most importantly fun or cool to do.
I can think of many things that have happened in my lab that probably would make any safety officer cringe. Such as trying to flare the end of a glass tube by putting it in place of a drill bit and then using a blow torch to heat the end. The science is sound, when partially molten the glass, driven by centrifugal force, will expand while staying cylindrical. However, the outcome was molten glass flung at hit speed across the lab. Another 'friday experiment' I am wanting to try is super heated and super cooled water. This is where you take water to above 100 degrees, or below 0. The key is to do it in a very clean glass so it does not boil, or freeze. Then when touch it will instantly boil/freeze all at once.

Note that this is very dangerous and as such I suggest extreme caution and safety equipment if anything here is to be repeated. I could use the old phrase 'do not try this at home' but it has come to be semantic satiation.
You may also think of these as the sort of thing that may have been thought of after a couple of drinks. One particular experiment comes to mind that was done here at Bristol.
Professor Sir Michale Berry was once awarded the Ig Nobel Prize, an honour for achievements that make people first laugh and then think, for levitating a frog. Defiantly something I believe was thought up after a couple of drinks, yet with a little thought you can see where it came from. You can use a giant magnetic field to levitate a diamagnetic material, if you wish to know the true details as to why I suggest you head to this Wikipedia link. But for the sake of this post I shall just say a diamagnetic material pushed back when it has an external magnetic field applied to it. Examples of diamagnetic materials are copper and lead, but also carbon and water the two main thing that will make up a frog. So why can't you levitate a frog, answer there is no reason you just need a magnetic field big enough.

This is a picture of the still living floating frog, from Michael Berry's original paper.

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