Day 25 - Shambles Advent

Blog in a Teacup by Dr Helen Czerski

Day 25 – @Ruth71520769

Every day until Christmas Dr Helen Czerski will be finding some cool, hidden science in pics of people’s every day lives. To get involved, tweet your pic to @helenczerski and @cosmicshambles with the hashtag #ShamblesAdvent

The last day, the last door… thank you so much to everyone who sent in pictures!  I’m sorry that I couldn’t include more of them, because they were awesome.   There were llamas and cars and leaves and trombones, and cats and rain and drums and bags – so much to play with! 

Today’s photo is a lovely festive one from @Ruth71520769 and I’m not going to pick this one apart in search of science.   Today is one of the few days in British culture when playing is written into the cultural script, whether it’s board games, toys and other presents, or perhaps experimenting in the kitchen.  And we should all play with the world more – we’re all curious creatures, and I’d love us to celebrate that more.  So in that spirit, here are a few things to play with, if you’ve got bit of spare time today.

  1. Red cabbage often makes an appearance at this time of year.  I’ve mentioned this game often, but it’s a good time to experiment with it.  Take a bit of red cabbage and boil it in a small amount of water, just until you see the water go red. You can now use this liquid as an indicator for things being acid or alkaline, so mix a few drops with lemon juice, washing powder, milk and anything else you can find.  There’s a nice chart here showing what the colours mean.
  2. If you’ve got out the sugar cubes for the coffee because you’ve got friends-and-relations round, pause for a moment before you drop the sugar cube in your coffee.  Hold it with just one flat surface touching the coffee surface, and you’ll see dark coffee rush up into the sugar cube.  This happens because the water sticks very easily to sugar, so it crawls up the surfaces of the sugar grains inside the cube.  But the cube has a network of narrow channels and spaces, and as the coffee crawls up the walls of each tube, surface tension pulls water up the middle part of each pipe as well.  So the cube acts like a mini-sponge.
  3. If you’ve got the festive fizz out, spend a bit of time watching the bubbles.   They start off being tiny at the bottom and then grow as they rise through the champagne or prosecco.  The deeper the glass, the bigger the bubbles will be by the time they reach the top (I’m assuming that you’ve poured it nice and gently, so it doesn’t have a huge pile of foam on top to start with – that’s just a waste of the gas!).  There’s a mini bubble engine in each glass, bringing flavour to the top.  I wrote about that here:  I suggest that you pour your fizz into a few different glasses, and to different depths, let the bubble engine run for a couple of minutes, and then see whether you can tell the difference.  I’m far from a wine expert, and even I can sense the differences.  But the definition of “best” comes down to your personal preference, so feel free to do extensive testing to explore your favourites.

Happy Christmas!

Read all of Helen’s other #ShamblesAdvent entries here

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Dr Helen Czerski is a physicist, first and foremost, but she’s acquired a few other labels along the way: oceanographer, presenter, author and bubble enthusiast. A regular on The Cosmic Shambles Network, she has also presented a number of acclaimed documentaries for the BBC and her first book, Storm in a Teacup, which looked at the physics of every day things, was a bestseller. Recently she was awarded the prestigious William Thomson, Lord Kelvin Medal and Prize from the Institute of Physics.

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