Tag: Science

Science is Us (2)

Amazing Statistics

The expression “mind-boggling” seems most appropriate here.

After reading my book, The Ascent of Science, referred to yesterday, I gathered together just a few of the randomly-miscellaneous statistics which most struck me. No doubt there are plenty more! PLEASE SEND ME YOUR MOST AMAZING NATURAL STATISTICS!

We are carbon-based creatures. EVERY SINGLE CARBON ATOM in our bodies
was created in a supernova explosion of a giant star. We are truly “Children of the Stars”.

The “Nature” of our world and existence is indeed almost unbelievable.

MOLECULES: They are extremely small: a teaspoonful of water contains about 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules. If everyone on the planet set out to count these molecules one per second it would take over ONE MILLION YEARS.

  • A molecule of hydrogen in a steel cylinder travels at about 3,800 mph.
  • Molecules NEVER stop moving. A molecule in the air makes 6,000 MILLION collisions with other molecules PER SECOND.
  • The above two facts explain why the progress of molecules through space is extremely slow unless assisted by an external force (e.g. the wind)
  • Every second, your skin is subject to bombardment by 2*10 to the power 24 (200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) blows from molecules in the air.

ELECTRONS: When you switch on a light bulb, approximately 3*10 to the power 19 (30 million million million) electrons flow through your lamp EVERY SECOND


NOT drawn in "real" proportions
  • A man is about 10 BILLION times larger than an oxygen atom. If an atom were the size of a golf ball then a man would stretch from earth to the moon.
  • A teaspoonful of solid nuclei of atoms would weigh about 500 million tons.
  • The nucleus of a typical atom contains about 99.8% of the total mass of the atom.
  • The diameter of an atom is about 100,000 times the diameter of the central nucleus.
  • Most of an atom is empty space. Imagine a sphere of FIVE MILES to represent an atom. The nucleus on the same scale would be the size of a tennis ball.
  • Most of your body is empty space …..
  • A black hole is supposed to consist entirely of material from the nucleus; all the “empty space” has been stripped away. A black hole of the mass of the earth would be ONE CENTIMETER in diameter.


  • There is believed to be a black hole at the centre of our galaxy with the mass of ONE MILLION times that of our Sun.
  • A pulsar or neutron star is a collapsed star that spins on its axis up to three or four thousand times per second.
  • A pulsar is ONE HUNDRED TIMES DENSER than a white dwarf, which is what our Sun will become once its nuclear fuel has been used up.
  • Pulsars sometimes send out gigantic amounts of visible light, equivalent to many times the total light emitted by the Milky Way.
  • A tablespoon of material from a neutron star would weigh about 3 BILLION TONS.


  • can distinguish around 400,000 different sounds.
  • can detect sounds so quiet that the vibratory movement induced in the eardrum is not much more than the width of a calcium atom.

By Chris Snuggs

Science is Us!

A plea for science education.

a science class at Woolverstone Hall School, late 50s - click to see more

Apart from hearing and knowing that many people are suffering terrible hardships in this world, I find few things more depressing than to hear young people say “I’m not interested in science”.

We are part of Nature. Science is the study of Nature.

How can it possibly NOT be the most interesting and endlessly-fascinating of subjects? There is a shortage of well-trained science teachers in Britain. There are too many students doing courses on “Football Management”, “Media Studies” or even “sociology”.

Why is this? I can’t explain it. Can anyone else?

I am not a scientist, having had to abandon the study of physics and biology – two subjects I loved – because I was better at languages.  Too many youngsters have to drop science at the age of 16. What an absolute folly in the technological age, even 50 years ago.

My point is not just that science is important but that it is so interesting. Is the problem that some kids find it “too hard”? That must be poor teaching, surely? You gear your lessons to your students.

One positive point about British schools – at least in my distant experience – was the great use made of practical work. I so looked forward to that in physics: boiling up water in calorimeters, mucking about with levers and pulleys, passing electrical currents through each other …. I looked on physics lessons as a game, not a boring school subject.

Yes, science CAN be hard, especially for those not that good at maths. Some of the most brilliant minds on the planet do science; we cannot hope to understand all they do. But this doesn’t matter, does it?

ISBN: 0-19-511699-2

As for maths, I have recently been reading a most stupendous book, one that I cannot recommend too highly to any layman interested in science. Shown right, this was written by Brian Silver, former Professor of Physical Chemistry at the Technicon Institute of Technology in Israel.

I read and re-read this book every night, each time hoping – somewhat in vain – that I will  eventually understand what quantum mechanics and relativity really are. But I read it, too, with a tinge of sadness, for Brian Silver died in 1997, just prior to the publication of his book, which I personally feel is a masterpiece of its kind.

In this book Professor Silver takes us through the history of science from Antiquity and before right up to the end of the 20th century.  As well as chapters on all the major fields and discoveries of science from Pythagoras to Hawking we have fascinating snippets of biographical information about the science greats: Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Herschel, Boyle, Hooke, Faraday, Lavoisier, Maxwell, Mendel, Darwin, Planck, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Einstein, Rutherford, Crick and so many more.

Their biographies themselves make fascinating reading, let alone their discoveries.

I read a book some years ago about Joseph Salk and the development of the polio vaccine. This was a hundred times more exciting than the most classy whodunnit, recounting the story of one of the greatest triumphs of medicine. Do you know anyone with polio? Nor do I, though I did when I was a kid in the 50s and of course there are many in “developing” nations still today, as we spend billions on CERN and not enough on medicine for the deprived of this world. Interwoven with the factual accounts of science and scientists considerable attention is given to philosophy and the placing of scientists and their discoveries in their historical context. A dry, purely factual book this isn’t, with the final chapters on cosmology, the origin of the universe and the meaning of life. (But don’t expect any answers to the last two!!)

Maths? Well, Professor Silver puts Michael Faraday right up there among the immortals. An astounding practical scientist/technologist, he made major discoveries in the field of electricity that affect the lives of everyone on the planet today. But his maths wasn’t too good! So much so that he pleaded with James Clerk Maxwell to write his equations in a more understandable way!

So you don’t have to be a great mathematician to do good things in science. If only I’d realized that before, I could have been another Faraday!

This book should be a standard textbook for all 6th formers, not just those doing science. I salute the brilliant and too-soon departed author.

By Chris Snuggs

Greenwich Observatory

A rich and beautiful place in British History

View from Observatory Hill of Queen Anne's Palace, the old naval buildings & across the river Canary Wharf

Paul Handover recently published an article about “Daylight Saving” and the Greenwich Meridian.  THIS SITE with its photos and links is of particular interest to those with little personal knowledge of London.

Greenwich Park – where stands the magnificent Royal Observatory – is one of the jewels of London. Steeped in history, it provides the perfect day-out for the family, including foreign tourists. Forget the jostling crowds in the frenzied den of useless consumption that is Oxford Street and take a train out to Greenwich. There you will find a magnificent park, wonderful views of London and the Thames, the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum. Too much to mention in detail, but if for nothing else just go to see the clocks of John Harrison, horologer extraordinaire in a time when chronometry meant everything to men at sea. You don’t have to be British to take pleasure in the great skills and achievements of British sailors and explorers, backed up by men of science responsible for some of the most important advances in scientific history.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been to Greenwich Park, but every time I get back to London from my current home in Germany, I try to take my son there.  I want him to see this rich place in British history, but also to enjoy its enormous beauty.

Identifying Bullshit in Science

Well founded suspicions of Sensationalised Science Reporting

Ben Goldacre

One of my daughters gave me a super Christmas present this year, the book  “Bad Science”, by Ben Goldacre.

This is a wonderful work and should be a set book for all “A” level schoolkids. There are chapters on:

  • Brain Gym
  • Homeopathy
  • the Placebo Effect
  • Mainstream Medicine
  • How the Media Promote the Public Misunderstanding of Science
  • Medical “trials”
  • the Pharmaceutical Companies
  • Bad Stats
  • Health Scares
  • the Media’s MMR Hoax

…. plus several others on various very rich charlatans in the field of alternative medicine and other areas. It also contains a concise and terrible account of the insanity of Thabo Mbeki’s nutty ideas on HIV and AIDS, which killed tens of thousands of people. Continue reading “Identifying Bullshit in Science”