Scientists view atomic bonds breaking and forming

Scientists in the UK and Germany have viewed individual metal atoms making and breaking bonds. They used carbon nanotubes as a scaffold to hold the atoms in place. This is with individual rhenium atoms. You can see the distance between the atoms grow and shrink depending on the environment. It looks like this type of microscopy will become important in chemistry.

Which falls faster, feathers or a bowling ball?

Of course, here on Earth, it’s the bowling ball. But why?

The answer is air resistance. Those darn air particles slow down the low mass feathers. They try to slow down the high mass bowling ball, but have little effect. So the feathers take longer to fall.

But what if you could remove those pesky air particles? Well, they did this on one of the later Apollo missions, but you can also do this on Earth. If you have the right equipment. Fortunately, NASA does.

Which way is down?

This seems like a very simple question. But as this video from vsauce shows, it’s anything but. This goes into things way past my middle school classroom, including general relativity, spacetime, and geodesics. Things are simplified in middle school, and it’s still a difficult thing for kids to get. More below the video.

In middle school we’re more interested in the Newtonian view rather than the spacetime view. For us, down is towards the center of the Earth. It’s the same for people on the other side of the Earth (say in Australia (I’m in New Jersey, USA)). For them, down is still towards the center of the Earth, but that’s in a different direction. My down and their down point in close to opposite directions. That’s because the concept of “down” is a local direction, not a universal one. My down is different from the down of my friend who lives in New Zeeland. This can be a difficult thing for 13 year olds to understand. It helps to show it on a globe, with little stick figures drawn on a folded up sticky notes.

Self serving biases and your own knowledge

How much do you know? Really? That much? Are you sure?

It turns out that there are lots of ways to think that you know more than you really do. Here’s a good scischow youtube about it. One of my favorites is the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which I see lots of. Basically, the less you know about something, the more you think you know. As a teacher I see this when students think they understand the topic, but then proceed to bomb the test. It works like this: When you have a beginners knowledge of something, you don’t know the intricacies of it. You don’t know just how much more there is to know.

I teach middle school science, so the material has been simplified—there’s a lot more to it than what I teach. Some students don’t get the simplified version, and they think that what they’ve gotten (the very simplified) is easy. Then they have to take a test on what they should know, and they have trouble with it. And when they get to a question on higher-order thinking skills … watch out!

The thing is, I think they could do much better. But when they’re studying, they think they know it, so they don’t study much. If they understood how much more they need to know, I think they’d realize that they needed to study more.

Anyway, watch the video.