Everyone loves fireworks.  Fireworks are quite old. The oldest form of fireworks was a firecracker from 7th century China, now we can make complex shapes like planets and clown faces.

So what gives the colors in fireworks?

There are a few elements at work. Barium, strontium, copper, and sodium make the colors green, red, blue, and yellow.  Aluminum and titanium make white; and carbon makes yellow.

So as you can see, fireworks are a explosion of color and chemistry.

On a cool summer night, you might see fireflies glow. What you may not know is that fireflies are key to discovering new drugs too.  Fireflies glow through a process called bioluminescence. In it, there are molecules that combine with energy and give off the green glow. Scientists are using those molecules and attaching them to cells to learn more about how these cells work. Following the glowing molecule is like watching a person in a darkly-lit room who has a glow stick. You know exactly where they are. The same goes for the part of the cell that has the glowing firefly molecule attached to it.

Now, fireflies are not the only species that glow.  There are worms that glow along with the anglerfish, which you’ve seen in major movies. There are also deep-sea shrimp that glow. Out of all those organisms, the deep-sea shrimp has the most disturbing use of bioluminescence.  When shrimps feel threatened by a predator, they vomits a glowing goo from their mouth to scare them off. That is a very effective means of bioluminescence!

All in all, bioluminescence is one of the tools that animals have.  Nature provides some excellent ways to see things in the dark, which scientists borrow for discoveries. As you can see, the light from fireflies is a small beacon during the summer, but also for the discovery of new medicines.

 

Star Trek has lots of cool technologies that have become a reality. There are invisibility cloaks and Tractor beams being made right now. And cellphones are like communicators and replicators are 3D printers. But, what we could all use is a transporter. This way we would not need to drive or go to an airport, we could just beam over to where we need to go and come back. Sounds wonderful!

Well, I spoke to physicist Lawrence Krauss, who is also the author of The Physics of Star Trek. He told me that a transporter takes us apart bit by bit. “In order to make you you, we need to put you back together atom by atom,” said Krauss. That sounds easy. But there is some bad news. There is a law in physics, in quantum mechanics, that tells us that the more we know where an electron is located, the less we know about how fast it is going. This is called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

To build a person atom by atom, we would need to know where each atom goes and how fast it is moving. But quantum mechanics says that we can’t know both of those things well. We can know one well, but not the other. So making a transporter would break the laws of physics.

Getting into a transporter would be a one-way trip. You might not like how you turn out.

So the short answer for “can we make a transporter?” is, “no.” We would be breaking the laws of physics to do so. And, we mustn’t do that.

No picnic would be perfect without ketchup. But ketchup has this habit of taking its sweet time when leaving the bottle.

There are several ways to get ketchup out of the bottle.

  • Stick a knife in it and scoop it out.
  • Hit the bottle at the neck (where the 57 is located).
  • Skip it and use mustard instead.

But there is a better, scientific way:

Shake the bottle.

Ketchup is made up of tomato pieces, water, vinegar and spices. And, it is the arrangement of the tomato pieces that give ketchup a structure and cause the flow of ketchup to slow down.

Scientists would call ketchup a thixotropic yield stress liquid. The yield stress part means that it takes force for the ketchup to move. This is why we have to hit the bottle to get it out. The thixotropic means that the ketchup has the ability to “remember.”

Once someone has used the ketchup bottle, the ketchup inside “remembers” it and will flow faster afterwards. This means that the second person that gets the ketchup bottle will have an easier time getting the ketchup out then the first person to use it.

What is going is on is that the tomato particles in the ketchup get rearranged after the first use and can easily flow passed each other the second time.

So how do you get ketchup to flow faster? If you are the first person with the ketchup bottle, then shake it. But, if you are the second person, don’t worry; you won’t have long to wait. The ketchup will flow real easily.

So, next time you are at a picnic, let someone deal with the ketchup bottle first. It is polite and scientifically a better way to reduce the wait.

 

Something is happening to honeybees! They are turning into zombie bees, or zombees.

There is a tiny fly that is injecting its eggs into the honeybee along with a parasite, and the parasite is taking over the honeybees’ behavior.  The bees fly around erratically and walk around awkwardly. You can say that it is the flight of the living dead.

Scientists are asking all of us to look out for bees that act strangely and report these sitings on their website: Zombeewatch.org. If you see something, say something. So far zombie bees have been found on the west coast in California and Washington state and on the east coast in Pennsylvania and Vermont.

Honeybees are important to us because they pollenate many of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables we enjoy. Without honeybees, there would be no honey too. Americans eat over 400 million pounds of honey every year.  If bees go away, we will need to eat foods that are wind pollenated like corn and wheat.

Honeybees make our lives a bit sweeter and here is one way all of us can help to keep them buzzing.

We all know that chameleons change color. But there is another marine master of disguise that you might not know about–the cuttlefish. This animal can change its skin with more variety and much faster than a chameleon. The secret has to do with how it communicates to tell its body to change.

The chameleon sends signals through its bloodstream to tell the body to camouflage. However, the cuttlefish sends electrical signals using its nervous system, which is much faster. By the time a chameleon has changed once, a cuttlefish has changed four times.

The reason for the cuttlefish’s ability to have such a diverse range in camouflaging is that it skin is made up of three layers. The first layer can change to warm colors, the second layer can change to all the others, the third layer can turn white. The combination of all those layers allows the cuttlefish to change to any color, plus patterns.

Here is a video for you to se for yourself (courtesy Roger Hanlon):

Fabrics are an old invention and have been important to us since ancient times. We choose different fabrics for their comfort or protection or both. For example, cotton absorbs moisture. And, this is a good thing, because the body doesn’t like wetness right next to the skin. The wetness feels clammy and it is very uncomfortable.

But in this age of technology, textiles will do more than make us comfortable. They will give us information, because they will have small bits of electronics embedded in them.

In fact, companies are now making wearable technologies to help NFL coaches monitor athletes by tracking their heart rate and their oxygen intake.

So when might you see smart shirt at your local store?

Well, engineers are working on them now. Ends up that a shirt is the worst place for electronics. Wearing a shirt or washing a shirt are demanding environments for any kind of electronics. They are the opposite of what electrical components prefer. Electronics like to keep dry and not bend.

These are major challenges engineers are solving right now. It seems in the future, we might need to charge our shirts. Or at least carry extra batteries.

Ben Franklin went out one stormy night with a kite and found out that lightning is electricity. Well, lightning has a few other tricks up its sleeve. Lighting makes magnets that are called lodestones.

Lodestones have been part of civilization for thousands of years, since the early compasses, which allowed us to reach new corners of the earth. And, the unusual origin of lodestones has been known for decades. The first clue that these stones were otherworldly was that they are only found on the surface of the earth. If you dig deep into a mine, you won’t find lodestones.

Dr. Peter Wasilewski, a retired NASA scientist, who made a living playing with lightning had this to say, “The thing about the lightning bolt, besides being magical, is that it has a magnetic field associated with it.”

Lightning changes the stone by providing a big magnetic field. One can demonstrate this by rubbing a needle with a magnet. That needle will be a magnet for a short time. Well, the lightning and lodestones undergo a similar process but on a larger and supernatural scale.

So, how do you coax lightning to strike a stone?

Wasilewski created lodestones using lightning in much the same way as Ben Franklin did, but with tools that are much more expensive. To make a lodestone, first he had to go where there is lots of lightning. Summertime months in places like Florida and New Mexico are hotspots for strikes.  Then, he needed a better “kite.” Wasilewski replaced Franklin’s contraption with a small bottle rocket that he launched into storm clouds. Attached to this rocket was a three-mile long metal wire fastened to a plastic box. Inside the box was a bed of sand, and the soon-to-be-zapped rock sat on top.

The experiment happens in a flash and everything melts or burns, since the lightning heats everything to over 2,900°F.

And the rock in the box? It’s a magnet now.

That’s a very striking difference!

 

There have lots of news about various pandemics. The first line of defense is a camera, a thermal camera.

When someone is sick, they usually have a temperature. Here is where the camera comes it. Thermal cameras can “see” if someone has a fever because these cameras can detect the heat. Thermal camera detect the heat, which comes off as infrared.

 

Twenty years ago, there were 1 billion monarch butterflies migrating 3,000 miles from the US to Mexico. Today, there are only 35 million! If you don’t want to do the math, that is less than 10 percent around now compared to what was around when the Spice Girls were big.

So what happened? Well, a weed that the monarch butterflies (and caterpillars) eat started to go away, and along with this weed went the monarchs.

Monarch butterflies feed on milkweed. Twenty years ago, milkweed grew quite a bit. But, with the development of crops that can resist herbicides, farmers sprayed and sprayed killing off the milkweed. When there is no milkweed, there are no monarchs.

Monarchs are a majestic species and one of the last animals we know that proceed with a great migration. American Bison (also known as the buffalo) use to migrate long distances, but they were virtually exterminated. Carrier pigeons used to migrate, but they are not around any more either. So, here we are facing another extinction of an animal, but there is something that we can all do to stop the monarchs from going away forever.

One thing you can do is stop mowing your lawn. Yes, you read that right. If you don’t mind a few wild flowers, why not add milkweed to the mix.  There are places that will give you free milkweed seeds.

Cities can stop mowing around power lines and underpasses that need not be well manicured. Here, milkweed can grow and give monarchs something to dine on too.

What is clear is that all of us can make a difference and bring these beautiful creatures back to a robust population.  We often hear about butterfly effects, but this time we can have an effect on butterflies.

Happy non-mowing!