Can a Single Sand Grain Power a Car for 10 km?

By Anupum Pant

I literally binge on YouTube, especially on science videos. Since I’ve been doing it for a long time, I follow a huge number of channels and among them, are some channels that need a special mention. For that, my plan for today was to create a list of five to ten spectacular YouTube science channels that are not popularly known. But while carrying out the research to collect data for this little list, I happened to stumble upon something which needs a post dedicated to it. So, I thought of delaying my original plan of collating a list of those lesser known science channels.

Background

To tell you about the thing I discovered, you need to know this first:

MinutePhysics: You know MinutePhysics right? I mean, who doesn’t know them. If you think you’ve never come across a video of their’s, try going to their channel. There is a high chance you’ll recognize their signature style of simplifying science – through animated videos. With more than 2 Million fans on YouTube, they have a huge following and almost every video of their’s goes viral, to some extent. It was started by Henry Reich and I’m guessing there is definitely a team behind the channel – If some one from MinutePhysics is reading this, like the one I did with Jaan Altosaar from UsefulScience.org, I’d love to do a short chat with you, if you have the time.

MinuteEarth: Now, the same people who created MinutePhysics also upload similar styled videos explaining the planet earth at MinuteEarth. You should check that out too. But that is not all I’m talking today…

MinuteLabs

I’m not sure how I landed on the Youtube page of MinuteLabs.io, but the instant I spotted the dot io in the end, I knew there was more to this channel than just two videos. I watched one of those videos – video (embedded below)

I could instantly connect to what Jasper was doing in the video. I often have such questions and I make these queries on Google all the time. But I had never endeavored to do what he (maybe with his team) did on his website.  And that brought me to MinuteLabs.io‘s Mass-energy scale.

Mass-Energy scale

When you land on the Mass-Energy scale page of MinuteLabs, you’ll find a vertically massive scale, listing out a couple of things on the right and left side. So, this is a scale which is based on the popular equation E=MC2 .

It lists out a number of everyday (plus other) objects and the energy associated with them on the left side. On the right side of this scale are the masses of some other objects. This is how it works…

 minutelabs mass energy scale

For example, if you take the mass of a sand-grain and multiply it with the constant C2, you’ll end up with some amount of energy (E) that is *theoretically* stored in its mass. To get an idea about how much this energy is, they have collected that huge list of energies associated with everyday objects on the left scale.

After referring to the scale, you’ll find that the amount of energy that is theoretically stored in the mass of a sand grain is almost equal to the energy that is needed to move a family car by 10 km. Even though you don’t really have an access to all that energy, Isn’t that huge, for a “very fine sand grain”! Check out the scale to see how huge things can get…

What I appreciate about it

Firstly, I appreciate the amount of effort it would have taken to collect that sort of data. I know that because I’ve tried doing something similar once. Trust me, It is a pain!

Secondly, I appreciate the fact (and again the effort) that their media is made using the latest web technologies. This makes their media so accessible to people.  Today, all you need for learning science, is an internet connection and a nice browser, like Chrome or Safari.

Besides this particular media (Mass-Energy scale) they have created, there are a couple of others that have already been up and running since the start of this year. I’m sure, like me, you’ll have a couple of hours of fun, learning and playing around with them. Cheers to simplified science and MinuteLabs for doing this project.

A Request

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Benford’s Law Will Make You Wonder For a While

By Anupum Pant

Benford’s law is a fairly simple law to grasp and it will blow your mind. It deals with the leading digits of numbers.

So, for example, you have the number 28 – The leading digit for it would be 2. Similarly, the leading digit for 934 would be 9. Just pick the first digit. Now…

In a data set you’d say – it is common sense to assume that the probability of leading digit one (1) appearing would be more or less equal to that of leading digit nine (9).
As there are 9 possible leading digits, you’d think that the probability of each leading digit would compute to something around 0.11
You’d imagine that it would be normal to assume a nearly straight graph of probability vs. leading digit. But this isn’t true.

Benford’s law says

Your common sense fails. What actually happens is that the likelihood of 1 appearing as the first digit in a data set is around 0.3
For the following digits, the probability keeps decreasing. And the following graph appears. You’ll see that the numbers rarely start with nine!

Benford2

When does it work?

This counter-intuitive result applies to a wide variety of natural data sets. It works the best if your set spans quite a few orders of magnitude. Natural set of data like stock prices, electricity bills, populations, which could range from few single digit values to several digits work the best. Other data like the heights of people doesn’t work because it does not span “quite a few orders of magnitude”. Also, artificially tampered data fails to comply because the person who tampers does the same mistake everyone does. Therefore, Benford’s law is also used to detect frauds in data.

Example:

  1. Count the number of data points in a data set which have the leading digit 1 and write the number next to the number 1 in a table.
  2. Then, keep repeating it for all the numbers 2, 3, 4 and so on.
  3. Calculate the probabilities for each. In the end you’ll be left with a table that would look something like this. (Probability = Number of Data Points for that  digit / Total Data Points)
Leading Digit Digit Probability
1 0.301
2 0.17
3 0.125
4 0.097
5 0.079
6 0.067
7 0.058
8 0.051
9 0.046

How does it work?

Watch the  following video for the explanation:

Try it yourself: [Kirix]

Valporate – Performance Enhancing Drug for Perfect Pitch

By Anupum Pant

Today we find out if it would be a good idea to impress your friends during the next gathering by hacking your brain with pills to learn a rare ability fairly quickly. But first, pay attention to the following jargon.

Perfect pitch

Perfect pitch is an exceptional ability among few gifted humans that enables them to recognize and re-create the pitch of a musical note instantly without the help of any external reference. There have been no cases of adults learning this ability by practice. However, pseudo absolute pitch can be learnt with great practice and only retained through regular use.

Brain plasticity

Learning to recognize musical notes, or any other ability for that matter can be reasonably easy at an early age due to a brain’s plastic state. The brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience is far better at younger ages. As people age, they lose the ability to learn like kids.

For instance, picture the rate at which infants learn language. By the time they turn 2 – 4 years old, they start using thousands of words. Try learning a new language at the age of 35. It is tough.

However, a new research suggests that this state of brain can be recovered by using drugs. One such drug, according to Dr. Takao Hensch is Valporate.

Is Valporate a Performance Enhancing Drug?

No! it is not a performance enhancing drug. Valporate or Valporic acid is a drug sold under the common names – Depakote, Depacon and Stavzor. For several years it has been used to treat various disorders from migraines to bipolar disorder. It is a chemical substance that can cross the blood–brain barrier. As a result, it has the power to affect an individual’s perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behavior.

Dr. Takao Hensch, a Harvard University professor, recently published a study which tested the effects of Valporate on 23 healthy male subjects for two weeks. None of them had a musical experience. During this period they were trained in music. At the end of this study, researchers found that these 23 men did remarkably better than an average adult would do, at perfect pitch tests.

In the future

He thinks, may be 10 years down the line, this drug could be used to enhance other learning abilities like language learning among adults, by changing the state of their brains.

Presently, studies on how the brain changes at cellular level when this drug is taken are underway. Also, Dr. Hensch thinks that humans have evolved to experience these learning stages for a reason. If it is okay to mess around with it, is still being studied. At this stage, trying this out at home can be extremely risky. It would be wise for us to wait for scientists to come out with a comprehensive study on the effects of this drug.

 

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