Weird water

Water, despite the fact that it's incredibly common, is actually a pretty strange compound. Some of its stranger properties make it particularly useful for life, such as the way it switches from getting denser as it gets colder (normal) to getting less dense as it gets colder (not normal) below 4oC.

A recently discovered and even more recently characterized weirdness of water is that on the nano scale and on hydrophobic surfaces, water spontaneously flows in instead of being expelled the way one would expect based on the usual reaction of water to hydrophobic materials: (blue in the image below)

What did I learn?

Some random stuff I've learned from my field work: some of this is really blindingly obvious in retrospect, but which I didn't learn in university and thus didn't think of until I ran into it, sometimes embarrassingly face first and sometimes by trying to use an existing bad design.

> Operations and maintenance don't like crawling on their hands and knees on gravel to get at equipment that needs maintenance.

I told you some of these would be blindingly obvious. I have seen limited access to not only equipment for maintenance, but also to valves that need to be used on a regular basis. I have also personally needed to work a valve several times per day where I had to thread my hand between several tubes just to reach it. Fortunately I have skinny hands, and none of the tubes were hot.

What did you learn?

While I was at the National Academies Press website downloading stuff for a previous post, I ran across a title in their catalogue that caught my eye:

Surrounded by Science

Since it was free, and it was about everyday science everywhere and teaching people about science, I downloaded it. Because, you know, Science!

I was nodding right from the first two paragraphs of the preface. Do you remember going to some museum, or aquarium, or other educational and fun location, get interested, have a fun time, then at the end of it get asked by your teachers or parents, "what did you learn?"

And then drawing a blank.

The funny thing is, the first thing I thought of when I read that was actually back in university, when halfway through any given class the professor would announce the date of the midterm: my first thought was usually to wonder what he could possibly test us on, we hadn't hardly learned anything.

I don't know if the book answers the question of how to help kids answer the question "what did you learn?" (I haven't finished reading it yet) but it certainly tries to answer the question of how to help people learn and absorb and integrate science more effectively.

Personally I think instead of asking what they learned, you should ask your kid what were some of the cool things they saw. They'll probably surprise you with the amount of stuff they learned. (I saw a deer with fangs at a museum once. That was seriously weird.)