Sure Would Be Simpler Than the Science WASL

20 April 2006

The Minneapols Star-Tribune asked some science gurus "What is the one science question that high school graduates should be able to answer?"

Here are the Top 10:
1. What percentage of the earth is covered by water?
ROBERT GAGOSIAN, WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTE

2. What sorts of signals does the brain use to communicate sensations, thoughts and actions?
TORSTEN WEISEL, ROCKEFELLER INSTITUTE, NEW YORK

3. Did dinosaurs and humans ever exist at the same time?
ANDREW C. REVKIN, NEW YORK TIMES SCIENCE REPORTER

4. What is Darwin's theory of the origin of species?
JONATHAN WEINER, 1995 PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR

5. Why does a year consist of 365 days, and a day of 24 hours?
LESLIE SAGE, NATURE MAGAZINE

6. Why is the sky blue?
ROY GLAUBER, 2005 NOBEL PRIZE WINNER; HARVARD UNIVERSITY

7. What causes a rainbow?
KIM KASTENS, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

8. What is it that makes diseases caused by viruses and bacteria hard to treat?
HELLE GAWRYLEWSKI, JOHNSON & JOHNSON (AND THE AUTHOR'S MOTHER)

9. How old are the oldest fossils on earth?
PAUL NURSE, 2001 NOBEL PRIZE WINNER; ROCKEFELLER INSTITUTE

10. Why do we put salt on sidewalks when it snows?
ARTHUR KNUDSEN, BRIDGETON, N.J., SCHOOLS

Extra credit: What makes the seasons change?

Need the answers? Read the rest of the article.

I don't know that these would have all been in my Top 10, but they aren't bad. I would have liked to have seen a question or two about the process involved with science. How do we know what we know?

Are there others you think should belong on the list?

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3 Comments:

Blogger Hg said...

I'm from Australia and don't have much experience with snow. So I looked to the original article to find out why anyone would want to add salt to water that will melt into their soil and river systems.

The answer to 10 - Adding salt to snow or ice increases the number of molecules on the ground surface and makes it harder for the water to freeze. Salt can lower freezing temperatures on sidewalks to 15 degrees from 32 degrees - doesn't actually tell me why you do it. The questions is faulty if that is the answer they are looking for.

So, can someone enlighten me? I always thought it was to make it melt away faster, but given that explanation is it because it makes it less slushy and slippery?

11:47 PM  
Blogger The Science Goddess said...

Something melts and freezes at the same temperature, so your observation that adding salt to ice can "make it melt away faster" is another way to say that you are making it freeze more slowly.

Think about it this way: if you have 100 particles of water and the temperature is lowered, they'll begin to arrange themselves into a solid. But if you add 50 particles of salt, you no longer have a substance that is 100% water. This substance (salt water) has different properties from plain water...one of which is its freezing point. By "depressing" the freezing point, the water on the roads and sidewalks stays more slushy instead of icy/slippery.

You're right---the question doesn't take into account any ecological consequences considering they're asking "why" you would add the salt.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Hg said...

Cheers for that! It's almost a shame that you don't get more time in direct instruction, your explanations are really good.

I was looking at the slippery factor wrong, so it didn't make sense. Slushy and watery is less slippery than icy (which I had assumed would be crunchy and consequently less slippery) and so is more desirable.

Another of life's little mysteries solved!

5:58 PM  

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