Lower Part of a Wheel Travels Slower

By Anupum Pant

Stick a colourful piece of paper on the side of a rim of a wheel and make the wheel roll away. If you observe carefully you’ll see, whenever the paper is near the ground, it appears clearly. However when the paper is at the top of the wheel, furthest from the ground, the paper appears hazy.

Also if you observe the spokes of a wheel of a moving cart, you’ll see that the spokes at the lower part of the wheel appear clearly. While the spokes of the upper part appear to blend into a single body, as if travelling much faster than the lower part.

It seems, the upper part of the wheel is travelling at a higher speed than the lower part of the wheel. How can that be, when both are physical extensions of a single object?

Yes, in fact the upper part does travel faster than the lower part. This sounds incredible, while it seems very ordinary to others who understand the simple physics of it. The physics involved really is very basic. So basic that I’m sure many reading this are cursing me for writing something so ordinary. But I find it really incredible. And believe me, there still are people who need to know this.

Let’s suppose the wheel moves at a speed of v in the right direction. However that is just the speed of the centre of the wheel. The upper part of the wheel for instance rotates at a speed of, say v, and also translates in the same direction at a speed of v. So, the speeds add up. And the top is travelling at a speed of 2v.

Similarly, at the bottom part of the wheel, the rotation is in the opposite direction (towards the left) and translation is in the right direction. Hence the speeds get cancelled and the lowest part of the wheel is stationary.

rims of a wheel

These are the topmost and bottommost points I’ve discussed here. For all the other points on the rim the rotational speed v gets split into a horizontal and a vertical component. So their speeds vary and lie in between 0 and 2v.

Some call it the cartwheel riddle.

Now, if you already knew that there’s something mind-boggling for you here. There’s another similar thing about wheels which blows my mind. Demonstrated in the video below…

Problem Solving Plants

By Anupum Pant

Neurobiological research on plants, sounds absurd, right? Not at all. Stefano Mancuso from University of Florence, Italy has devoted years of his life studying plants and he firmly believes that plants can communicate.

He often uses bean plants to demonstrate their mystical ability to communicate and their amazing ability to sense the environment. He has grown bean plants in a number of conditions (lighting, temperature, humidity, magnetic field etc.), while recording their growth through a time-lapse camera.

In his time-lapse videos it’s fascinating to see bean plants shooting out and making movements, as a blind man would do with his hand to sense the environment. Every single time, irrespective of its distance, bean plants are able to find the support stick to wind on…

This remarkable ability of bean plants, lacking eyes or any other known sensing techniques, has stunned scientists. Since it is sped up, the video of this shoot moving up the support stick looks a lot like some reptile’s movement.

Here, watch the time-lapse, you’ll see how amazing this little marvel of nature is…

Like a bean plant, there is another plant (if you could call it that), whose movements have interested scientists. Exactly like a bean plant does, this plant comes out too, searches and always is able to find another plant to grow on. At the same time, it is quite different from the bean plant.

Cuscuta Pentagona, as scientists call it, is a true parasite. That means, it has no roots, nor can it make food on it’s own – no photosynthesis. So, for food, it relies on neighbouring plants. And every single time, like bean plant, after coming out from the ground, cuscuta parasite is able to sense the healthiest plant. It then sinks in its suckers to suck out food from the host plant. Now watch the serial killer in action, in the voice of Morgan Freeman.

Understanding the Impending Helium Crisis

by Anupum Pant

There is too much Helium?

Helium is the second most abundant element in the observable universe, present at about 24% of the total elemental mass. Helium is also the second lightest element. So, 24% by mass is too huge a mass for a single light element. It equates to a measure that is probably millions of times more than what humanity could use up in millions of years. Close to about 12 times the mass of all the heavier elements combined, this element will almost never run out. But, that is only when we talk about the universe. Back in Earth, it is completely a different story.

Helium sources for us

On Earth, Helium is relatively rare. It amounts to only a 0.00052% volume of the earth’s atmosphere. Although 0.00052% is not too less, you also can’t consider it as an abundant element. Moreover, extracting Helium from air is almost 10,000 times more costly than fractional distillation (mentioned in the next paragraph). So, all that Helium in air is nearly useless to us till better methods of extraction are invented.
Thankfully, Helium is also present under the surface of the earth. The source of this kind of deposit is, radioactive decays which take place down there. It mixes with the natural gas and is lost to space, if released into the atmosphere. It is separated from natural gas using a process called fractional distillation – The best process to make Helium.

The largest known underground reserve estimated to contain about 10 billion cubic feet of Helium is a federal reserve (mostly under Texas and Kansas). For years US reserves had been the largest global suppliers of Helium (90%). Even today, these reserves contribute to more than 35% of the total global supply. The price of Helium coming from this source has remained almost unchanged for a long time. While during the same period (10 years) privately held Helium prices have tripled. The gap in prices is increasing every day, creating a big distortion in the market.

Helium Usage

Uses of Helium range from manufacturing smart phone screens (all LCD screens) to optical fibers (Internet cables) to health care (MRI scanners) to scientific research etc. [Uses of Helium]

The Problem

Since Helium has been made artificially cheap due to the Helium privatization act, it is popularly believed to be a cheap gas and is wasted a lot. Instead of using it up for important things, we consume it by filling up party balloons, distort voices and other entertaining activities. In fact, the warning issued by the Nobel Prize winner Robert Richardson that Helium could be depleted within a generation, seems to have had no effect on us. We still continue to waste a lot of Helium, release it into the air and keep losing it forever. Not many realize that it is a non-renewable resource.

We have almost reached a crisis already, but it was temporarily averted by the congress. In the future, after about 6-7 years, when the Federal Reserve stops supplying it (at below-market prices), it could be a big problem. I’m not very optimistic about market adjusting within such a small span either. In under a decade, we’ll probably see smart-phone prices, optical fiber prices and health care (MRI scans etc.) prices shoot up precipitously due to this artificial market distortion, if we do not start using Helium properly.