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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thought Experiment

As I said in my first post, I needed some kind of incentive to start writing and having a blog seems to be doing it. I actually have written a few dozen, but although I am aware that about half of the posts have some science content - when I have an urge to write about my favorite subject, chemistry - I am stopped cold.

That’s because talking about chemistry to most adults is like talking a foreign language and you can’t understand a language until you learn what the words and idioms mean.

It’s different with kids. When I talk to them, I don’t assume they know anything and have fun giving them a feel for the basics. I always assumed adults wouldn’t be interested in kid stuff but have had a little feedback lately that refutes that assumption – so here goes with convincing the kid in you that matter is really composed of atoms that are just a figment of our imagination and that no one will ever be able to see.

The cartoon shows the early Greek philosopher Democritus sitting in his garden thinking as he often did, while his wife is making his supper. All at once he thinks: ‘Oh no! cabbage for supper again tonight !!’ Then he wonders ‘How on Earth can I smell the cabbage cooking when the kitchen is way over on the other side of the garden?’ Being a Greek, he had confidence he could figure anything out if he thought about it so, of course, he did a 'thought experiment'.

Let’s do one together for fun. - What logical reason would explain how our friend Democritas could possibly have something from the cabbage going up his nose? You can only smell cabbage when it's cooking so maybe the steam that comes off the boiling pot and disappears, must contain some particles of cabbage in it that are so small that you can’t see them and they have drifted in the air all the way from the kitchen to Democritus.

Are you thinking - rocks and tables and lots of things don't ever smell so if they are made of atoms, why not? Well, if they are really made of atoms, the only logical reason is that they all must be all stuck together so well they can't let go. Right? As a matter of fact, atoms do have such a strong tendency to get together with other atoms that very few can exist by themselves. If you're interested in knowing why - you'd have to talk to a chemist who might not be able to resist telling you in her next blog. Rie

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