• scissors
    April 30th, 2014ImogenUncategorized
    Someone please buy me a donkey

    Donkeys have the best ears

    Do your ears ever jump? Occasionally, when I hear a sudden sound I feel something in my ears twinge. This seems to happen more frequently when the sound might be attention-worthy. I’ve asked several people about this and they all think I’m crazy. Surely I can’t be the only one with involuntary ear innervations?

    I have a theory that this is related to ear wiggling. My Grandpa wiggles his ears as a party trick and my mum can be persuaded to as well. Apparerently 15% of the population has the genes necessary for the little ear twitching muscles and these can be inherited.

    The auriculares muscles are leftover from a time when we needed to move our ears to hone in on particular sounds. When alarmed, it makes sense that your ears should prick up to hear better in the same way that your eyes widen so you can see better.

    My only problem is I can’t twitch my ears on demand. What’s the point of useless evolutionary throwbacks if you can’t use them to entertain yourself? I’m going to practice with the ears, and if that doesn’t work then I’m going to eat some grass and train my appendix.

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  • scissors
    May 14th, 2013ImogenUncategorized

    Wonderful Water Thing #1

    From my previous post, you may have realised that my house isn’t that warm. The place I’m living in was built in the 18th Century and isn’t exactly airtight, but water vapour from cooking and breathing still builds up inside the house. The thing is, cooler air holds less water, so when the air reaches a cooler surface, water falls out of the air and sticks to the cold surface. This appears as condensation on windows.

    This is how clouds are made too. Air gets cooler as you get further away from ground level, so at a certain distance from the ground the air will reach a temperature where it can no longer hold the water vapour dissolved in the air, and the bits of water that had been dispersed in the air start to stick together and reflect light. This makes them appear white. The height at which this happens is known as the cloud base. Window condensation is basically a cloud stuck to your window, so that’s actually pretty exciting.

    Watery Wonderful Thing #2

    I was driving home from work today and there was a humungous rainstorm. I was seriously glad I was not on my bicycle, or I think I would have dissolved in it. The sunshine with the rain made a rainbow pop up but it was so low in the sky I could see both ends through my windscreen. This realisation did nothing for my concentration. The thought of pots of gold hiding on the golf course is enough to make a girl lose her hubcap.
    It turns out that the height a rainbow will occur at is linked to the time of day. A rainbow is essentially a circle, and the circle’s centre is at the opposite point in the sky from the sun. At sunrise or sunset, this point will be on the horizon, so the rainbow will be at its highest. As the sun rises, the bow’s centre gets lower so that its centre is below the horizon and to us it looks smaller. The rainbow always appears to have the same radius of 42˚, so when the sun is 42˚ high only the top of the rainbow is visible over the horizon.

    I say appears, because the rainbow is not fixed in space, as you will know if you’ve ever tried to reach the end of one. It really is just a mirage, you can never get any closer to it because it’s not really there.

    Wonderful Watery Whatsit #3

    The third amazing thing is very simple and I noticed it when I was soaking my rice this evening in a few centimetres of water (this is pretty low tech). I was moving the saucepan back and forth waiting for the kettle to boil and I realised that as the water moved, the base of the saucepan appeared to be rocking up and down.

    Rainbow over the park

    Today's rainbow from the same window

    As the bigger mass of water came over a spot, the water refracted the light more. The effect of this is make the distance between us and the object appear smaller, so the base of the saucepan appears closer the more water is over it. As the water rocks away the light is refracted less and the base appears further away again. Wibbly wobbly saucepan! It’s like magic. I recommend a big saucepan for the best effect.

    There are like a zillion more amazing things that water does. This is just the tip of the iceberg (ahahaha).

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  • scissors
    January 9th, 2013ImogenUncategorized

    Hello science fans. Now that I have graduated University and become a Real Person With a Job and Everything, I have become best friends with my hot water bottle. To the extent I mention it so often in texts that it has become abbreviated to HWB. There is, I am discovering, an art to filling a hot water bottle so that it provides enough heat for enough time without being too unbearably hot.

    The problem is, I always get distracted and don’t stop the kettle before it boils. Boiling water makes for an HWB that’s too hot under the duvet. But when I add cold water to the near-boiling water, this just feels a bit wrong. Basically, I lied when I said this is an art. It’s not, it’s a science, and here’s why.

    Let’s say that instead of water in my container, I have identical rocks. Each rock has a hotness score or 0-10 where 0 is room temperature (the temperature all rocks are going to cool to eventually) and 10 is super duper hot. A group of rocks collectively loses one hotness point per minute as it cools. Par example…

    Scenario 1: I use 10 rocks each of hotness 1 so my container is at temperature 1. I have 10 hotness points and this keeps me warm for 10 minutes. Hmm not good enough.

    Scenario 2: I use 5 rocks each of hotness 10.. This gives me a total of 5×10=50 hotness points so my container keeps me hot for 50 minutes. A container which starts at hotness 10 is too warm though

    Scenario 3: As a compromise, I use 10 rocks of hotness 5. This equals the same amount of hotness points as before, so keeps me warm for the same amount of time as Scenario 2 but the starting average temperature of 5 is perfect!

    Scenario 4: I’m so pleased with my success from Scenario 3 that I forget the rest of my rocks are on the fire and I come back to find they are now all 10 hotness points. Oh no! Too hot! What to do? I need 50 hotness points and a starting temperature of 5 for optimum bed cosiness. If I take 5 rocks of hotness 10 from the fire and add 5 rocks of 0 hotness (room temperature) then the average (overall) temperature is now (10+10+0+0)/4=5 hotness, and I have 50

    hotness points to keep me warm for ages! Hooray!

    This means that if I use near-boiling water and then add cold, it will give me a hot water bottle which is not too hot, which will last for longer!

    You are welcome.


    Not 42, just HWB
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  • scissors
    March 1st, 2012ImogenUncategorized

    Noble, gaseous air. Can’t live without it, can’t walk over it. If you’re not an Olympic swimmer then you probably spend most of your waking hours moving through air. Therefore, as well as serving a perfunctory functional purpose, a bath can be a bit of respite. A change of scene- or state, if you will. However, next time you have a bath, there’s no need to just sit there! Did you know that there is a whole host of micro-experiments you can try out, all from the comfort of your lavender scented water? Here are my top 3 favourites.

    1. Wave Interference

    Unless you are some sort of bath-drawing pro, there’s always some essential water mixing to be performed. This is a perfect opportunity to make something constructive. Or destructive, if you so wish. Make some waves travel down the bath then watch as they are reflected by the end of the bath and travel back on themselves. Where two peaks intersect you will get constructive interference and the wave will be bigger and splashier. If a peak and a trough meet then they will cancel each other out and you’ll get a ‘node’, or flatness.

    This is exactly how noise cancelling headphones work: the headphones listen to the ambient noise around you and play you a sound wave that is the exact opposite to the noise. The ambient sounds are cancelled out by the new wave and so you don’t hear it. This is why these devices work better for environments with constant noise levels- when you are on an aeroplane, for instance.

    2. Manual Airfoil

    Technically a waterfoil, but that sounds like a duck or something. If you make a cupped shape with your hand under the water and sweep it along your leg, you will feel a suction pulling your palm towards your lallies. This works best if you hold your hand as close as possible to your leg without actually touching it.

    Your hand is moving through the water like the wing of an aeroplane moves through the air. As the water moves over the curved back of your hand it has to travel faster than it does under your flat palm. The slow moving water under your hand creates a region of lower pressure, effectively sucking your hand in that direction. So really, planes don’t fly, they’re just suckers.

     self portrait

    3. Living on Jupiter

    Ok so you’ve made waves, swooshed your hands around, splashed lots of water on the floor, and maybe got a bit cleaner too. Before you turn into a complete prune it’s time to get out, but you’re just so relaxed and comfy. Instead of arising abruptly and possible getting a head rush and falling and hitting your head on the sink and having a brain haemorrhage (don’t say I didn’t warn you), try number 3 instead. Lie in your bath and take the plug out. As the water line drops further, you will start to feel strangely heavy. Your muscles have had a bit of a holiday, aided by the buoyancy of the water. Now the water’s gone there is no upthrust, only a force of approximately 1 Newton per Kilo pulling you towards the centre of the Earth. Now, don’t you feel like you’ve just come back from the moon?


    If you like to take some refreshment at bathtime then be sure to check out my other blog post Slurpy Bath Tea, it’s essential reading on the topic.

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  • scissors
    November 29th, 2011ImogenUncategorized

    After 3 and three quarter hours, it emerged from the oven to the exultant tones of Handel.

    There it sat in its double lined saucepan, a giant nugget of cakey, fruity, boozy goodness. Behold! I cried, brandishing the improvised tin at my dozing mother: a cake is born!

    The Reactants

    This weekend saw the first Stir-Up Sunday in a generation of Houses. At the grand age of 21 I decided that I wanted to have a go at making a Christmas cake, since I love Christmas and I love cake, so why not? When I declared this to my parents they were somewhat bemused since Houses don’t really “do” Christmas cake, nor pudding. Aware of the gaping abyss of mixed peel, brandy and baking times opening up before me I consulted Grandma House on the matter, hoping to receive some treasured handed-down recipe. Alas, none such was to be found. I heard from my Grandma that once she made Christmas puddings every year, a whole year in advance. She told me, without nostalgia, that a time came when you could buy puddings “that were just as good” from shops and so she hung up her pudding basin.

    It seemed odd to me that someone of my Grandma’s generation would value commercial produce over homemade, but then, when my Grandma was 17, WWII broke out. After rationing I’m sure the idea of buying your Christmas pudding was a huge step up from powdered eggs and hoarding butter rations. Now, in my generation, making things is back in vogue. Anyone can buy a chunky cable knit snood from Topshop, but who can make their own? (I couldn’t, but my sister did). Sure, you could just pop down to Tescos and purchase your Finest Christmas Pudding with caramelised holly leaves and a miniature of brandy for singeing your eyebrows with. However, who has the time to stir 2lbs of dried fruit into a gloopy mix and then bake it upon a sheet of newspaper for almost four hours? The excessive labour is part of the love that goes into it. Only once a year can such extravagance for one single baked good be justified.

    Only a mother could love it

    If no one else likes the luscious/delicious/blasted cake and it takes me until Easter to finish eating the concoction then so be it! If anyone would like to give me a hand, please send stamped addressed cake boxes from Boxing Day onwards. Only put quite a lot of stamps on because it’s pretty dense.

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  • scissors
    March 29th, 2011ImogenUncategorized

    Tea Vortex

    Sometimes it is easy to find anything more interesting than the work you should be getting on with. This morning I took a break from revision to make some tea. I had to use powdered milk but sadly it 1) refused to dissolve properly, and 2) tastes weird, so I didn’t drink the resulting brew and it remains on my desk. As my mind wandered from the mysteries of dielectric materials in capacitors I developed a fascination with stirring my now-cold tea.

    By stirring the tea and then placing the spoon perpendicular to the edge of the cup I can create a mini vortex. Milk particles orbiting in the vortex have more speed than those which continue to do a full circuit of the mug. This is because they seek to conserve their angular momentum. Angular momentum is equal to the product of the radius of the circle, the mass of the particle and its velocity. The mass does not change so as the radius decreases, the velocity must increase in order to keep the angular momentum the same.

    What is concerning is that this is only my second day of revision and my exams are still 6 weeks away. I dread to think what will be entertaining me in the weeks to come. My reflection in a spoon perhaps? Perfecting my “r” rolling? Actually between sentences I am already experimenting with rotating on my swivel chair by waving my arms around like an over-intent cheerleader.

    Whatever keeps us sane, eh? I suppose I’d better get back to work.

    Oh look it’s almost lunchtime!

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