Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Festivals of Light

In honor of this season of Festivals of Light – Bob Kulawiec, Chemistry teacher extraordinaire, offers the following Holiday Tale – On Strontium, on Lithium, on Copper, on Barium:

Most years, during the last class period of each section of chemistry before winter break, I share “celebratory holiday pyrotechnics” with my students.  The dishes contain metal salts dissolved in methanol, a highly flammable solvent.  When the methanol burns, the heat of combustion promotes the metal atoms to higher energy states.  When they fall back to their ground states, they emit the excess energy in the form of visible light.  Since each element has its own characteristic quantized energy states, each element emits light of different wavelengths, which we perceive as different colors.  The colors correspond to the classic “flame tests” used for centuries to identify elements.  They are, from left to right: lithium (bright scarlet), copper (green), strontium (reddish orange) and barium (green-tinged yellow).

Happy Holidays from the Edmund Burke School Chemistry Lab!



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Physics is Funny

You may have already read that physicists at CERN, the world’s largest particle accelerator, claim to have found particles that may travel faster than the speed of light.  What is this – some kind of joke?

Cosmic Comedian

There is something funny about the finding though — it violates Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which has been our own “constant” of physics for the past 100 years.  This isn’t the first time people have come up with results that attempted to throw doubt on Einstein’s law. Physicists, the Nazi Party, even Einstein himself (!) have tried to cast doubt on good old E = mc2.  To no avail… so far. (“A physicist, a nazi and Albert Einstein are on a train moving at the speed of light…”).

Neutrinos, the particle scofflaws attempting to break the speed of light limit, are a cosmic joke in their own right.  Ever coy, they are “virtually invisible and able to sail through walls and planets like wind through a screen door, but they are shape-shifters.”  They seem like an unsavory crew to bet your PhD on.

So, now to the punch line – if you’re having trouble understanding what all this means – here’s a (now) old bar joke that explains things from the excellent blog Sweetness & Light:

“We don’t allow faster than light neutrinos in here” said the bartender.

A neutrino walks into a bar.

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Do students need Algebra 2?  Should students be required to take Algebra 2 to graduate high school?  Burke thinks so; all students take three years of high school math to graduate, including Algebra 1, Algebra 2 and Geometry.  We make this possible for all learners, offering three levels of instruction to students encountering what the Washington Post called the “intricate mysteries” of Algebra 2 ideas.

In a front page article, the Post article quoted moaners and groaners about the difficulties and relevance of Algebra 2; the quiz the paper provided for readers to try our hands at Algebra 2 concepts included an exponential decay expression.  “What exactly does this have to do with real life?” the Post asked.  Columns and columns of lamenting followed, all the way onto page A15.

Along the way to A15, there was an interesting graphic in the article about Chernobyl 25. The Post reported the critical information that half the cesium-137 released in 1986 will have degraded to relatively stable barium-137 by 2016, with a quarter of the cesium-137 remaining in 2046.

Isn’t that just exponential decay?

They’re learning about it in Algebra 2.

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Just saw the Falls Church premiere of I AM http://iamthedoc.com/ . Check it out. Will be at E Street starting Friday.  Heart-centered it had all my favorites: Thomas Merton, Albert Einstein, Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and new insights on how we are biologically and spiritually hard-wired for cooperation.


From the director of BRUCE ALMIGHTY, THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE comes something completely different.

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To Infinity & Beyond

NASA is winding down the Shuttle program, with the current last flight of Discovery this week.  Check out this cool video of Discovery’s final launch, taken from a plane flying over Florida.

God speed Disgovery.

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A giant cave column swagged in flowstone towers over explorers swimming through the depths of Hang Ken, one of 20 new caves discovered last year in Vietnam.

A climber ascends a shaft of light in Loong Con, where humidity rises into cool air and forms clouds inside the cave.

Maureen’s Seventh Grade Geography class may want to dig into Hang Son Doong, the massive cave recently discovered in Central Vietnam.  Even the english translation of its name, Mountain River Cave, gives some poetic insight into its strange and endless subterranean world.  National Geographic‘s photographs illuminate an underground universe no less fantastic than a combination of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. “There’s a jungle inside the mammoth cavern.  A skyscraper could fit too.  And the end is out of sight.”  At over 300 feet wide, and 800 feet tall there is enough for an entire New York City block of 40-story buildings. “There are actually wispy clouds up near the ceiling.”

Click here to look at the all the photos – you’ll be amazed.

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Students applying to Cornell University may want to read up on chemistry professor, David Usher.  According to this Cornell blog post, he sometimes gently awakens the occasional student asleep in his class by singing Nessun Dorma (”None Shall Sleep”) from Puccini’s Turandot or the Berceuse from Benjamin Godard’s opera Jocelyn, which begins, in Usher’s translation, “Oh! wake not yet from out thy dream . . .”

Chem teacher, Bob K., probably never needs to pull this out of his educational bag of tricks:

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