Monthly Archives: November 2016

Recycling: Turning Styrofoam to Glue

Today is America Recycles Day, which you can learn more about recycling here. We wanted to take this opportunity to learn something cool about one of the most heinous landfill residents: styrofoam. This lightweight convenient insulating material has found many uses, from takeout containers to disposable coolers. Unfortunately, to go along with all of its good qualities, it has one bad one: it doesn’t degrade naturally. This means that when it goes in the trash, it will stay there for a very long time. In addition, styrofoam is about 95% air, each pound that is disposed of will be taking up a lot of space–possibly up to 30% of the total volume–in our garbage for the foreseeable future.

1024px-acetone-3d-vdwFortunately, not everyone is resigned to this fate. Instead, people have been trying to come up with a better way to deal with this. One of these ways uses acetone. Acetone is an organic molecule made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and is the simplest member of the ketone family. On the right is a picture of acetone at the atomic level.

Most of the uses of acetone revolve around a single property: it is an excellent solvent. This means that it does a great job of dissolving many different kinds of molecules, making it useful as a cleaning agent in chemistry labs and a remover of nail polish.

dissolve

Styrofoam is made of polystyrene, which in itself means a chain of styrene. Styrene is a relatively simple organic molecule that can easily bind with itself. When it comes in contact with acetone, the polystyrene chains fall apart. However, the acetone doesn’t actually dissolve the styrene molecules. If it did, all of the styrofoam would disappear into the acetone, but instead we end up with this.

glue

Depending on your point of view, this probably looks like some combination of gross, scientific, and fun. Additionally, it is also useful. Using solvents like acetone to break down styrofoam can repurpose it to being a rather useful adhesive. Being able to use styrofoam as a glue is a terrific alternative to having it fill up or landfills.

Please don’t rush out and try to do this on your own, as acetone is dangerous and also not the right chemical to do this properly. To learn more about this method go here.

How Spinning Magnets Make the World Turn

We all know know what magnets are. At the very least, you’ve probably put one on the fridge. Magnets can come in all shapes and sizes, but they all work the same way. In simple terms, they have a north pole and a south pole. When two identical poles get close, they repel, and–of course–opposites attract.

magnets-shapes-and-sizes

Some of the many shapes, sizes, and types of magnets. Photos from coolmagnetman.

That said, many things about magnets are a lot more mysterious. Scientists explain these phenomena through something called a magnetic field, and this has some pretty wild and testable consequences. One of them is known as Faraday’s Law, which says that a changing magnetic field can generate electricity through a process known as electromagnetic induction. There isn’t a lot to be said about how this works; just as gravity pulls you down, moving magnets near wire will make electricity!

1

If this doesn’t seem all that interesting or important then just think for a moment about how much electricity we use. Then consider where that electricity comes from. Coal, wind, and nuclear power probably come to mind–but then how do we get the electricity out of those things? The answer is actually simple: magnets! Each of the major methods of making electricity really are just finding ways to spin a turbine which is connected to a magnet!

The amount of power that you get out of one of these generators depends on how many times the wire is wrapped around, how close it is to the magnet, and how strong the magnet is. This in turn makes the magnet harder to turn. If you look at a windmill, you will notice it has huge blades, allowing it to convert more wind into more power!

windmills-and-mountians-1024x768

This wind farm in Palm Springs not too far from our campus employs this exact technology to generate electricity from the wind! Photo from best of the best tours!

Refraction: How To Bend a Laser Beam

Light travels at different speeds through different media. Water slows light down more than air, for instance. Corn syrup slows it down even more than water. In this experiment, we create a gradient solution of sugar water in a tank. As a laser beam travels through the liquid, the changing concentration bends its path!

The solution at the bottom of the tank is about 80 percent sugar by volume. As a siphon slowly transfers liquid into the aquarium, we add more and more water to the top container, diluting the mixture. The last layers to be added contain almost no sugar.

dripdripgif

Sugar water is denser than pure water. This property keeps the heavier, more concentrated solution on the bottom of the tank. Lighter mixtures float above in order of density. We chose a siphon system to stack our liquids because it transfers the fluid slowly and gently, without creating too much turbulence. This method allows a relatively smooth density gradient to form.

Our variable solution of sugar water also has a gradient index of refraction, meaning that light travels faster in some parts than others. Namely, light is slowed down the most in the heavy 80% region towards the bottom. It travels faster as the mixture becomes more dilute near the top of the volume of fluid.

laserbend

Imagine a line of children holding hands and running across a field. If they all run at the same speed, the line stays straight. What happens if they’re not all identical athletes, and you place them in order of running speed? The line bends. One end of the chain ends up ahead of the other. This is a bit like what we’ve done to the laser beam.

Written By: Caela Barry

WELCOME TO OUR ASTROCAMP BLOG

We would like to thank you for visiting our blog. AstroCamp is a hands-on physical science program with an emphasis on astronomy and space exploration. Our classes and activities are designed to inspire students toward future success in their academic and personal pursuits. This blog is intended to provide you with up-to-date news and information about our camp programs, as well as current science and astronomical happenings. This blog has been created by our staff who have at least a Bachelors Degree in Physics or Astronomy, however it is not uncommon for them to have a Masters Degree or PhD. We encourage you to also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Twitter, and Vine to see even more of our interesting science, space and astronomy information. Feel free to leave comments, questions, or share our blog with others. Please visit www.astrocampschool.org for additional information. Happy Reading!

Categories

Archives

Tags